ESPN Star Sports (ESS) is set to launch a round-the-clock sports news channel after rolling out a new look for its existing mainstream channels. Asia’s largest sports broadcaster has applied to the Indian government for permission to downlink the proposed channel, which is likely to be called ESPNews. This will be the fourth channel from the ESS bouquet after ESPN, Star Sports and Star Cricket.
ESS expects that the relaunch of ESPN and Star Sports channels across all Asian countries will help it recover the steep acquisition cost it has paid for sports properties by driving advertiser interest. The relaunch includes new logos, graphics and presentation besides an expansion in portfolio. ”The relaunch aims to enhance the value of our brands — a stronger brand means better and more business,” RC Venkateish, managing director of ESPN Software India, said.
The timing of the relaunch holds special significance for India because two international cricket tournaments, are round the corner. “We are moving into a high-activity phase and the timing is relevant for us,” Mr Venkateish said. ESS has exclusive broadcast rights to T20 Champions League, Champions Trophy, FIFA World Cup and the T20 World Cup that will be broadcast in the next 12 months.
ESS is a 50:50 joint venture between The Walt Disney Coowned ESPN (formerly Entertainment and Sports Promotion Network) and News Corp-owned STAR TV, and says it has a reach of 310 million viewers across Asia. In the US market, ESPN had launched ESPNews in 1996 and ESPNews HD in 2008. ESS already competes with half a dozen round-theclock sports channels in the Indian market: Nimbus Communications’ Neo Sports and Neo Cricket, Zee Network’s Zee Sports and TEN Sports, Sony’s SET Max and state-run DD Sports. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is also planning an all-cricket channel.
The economics of running a sports channel is skewed by the high cost of acquiring sports properties in a highly-competitive market. In September last year, ESS had paid $975 million for commercial rights of the T20 Champions League for 10 years — its most expensive cricket acquisition. The deal, which gave ESS rights for the tournament till 2017, makes it the most expensive cricket tournament by value on a pergame basis. In addition, ESS has paid $1.1 billion for all cricket tournaments organized by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for an eight-year period between 2007 and 2015.
Last year, the cancellation of the inaugural T20 Champions League tournament because of terror attacks in Mumbai had resulted in ESS losing an opportunity to earn about Rs 200 crore from on-air revenues and ground rights. However, this year, with both Champions Trophy and Champions League coinciding with the festival season, the broadcaster is hopeful of generating healthy advertiser interest. Telecom service provider Bharti Airtel had paid close to Rs 170 crore for a five-year period as the title sponsor of Champions League.
Since India is essentially a cricket country, ICC has scheduled its Cricket World Cup in 2011 to be held in India. ESS too derives its maximum revenues from cricket. The Indian arm of ESS contributes 45-55% of the total revenues earned by the company.