As you walk through the slums of Mumbai, you spot boys wearing Kaka, Messi and Ronaldo football jerseys everywhere. It's virtually the uniform for young street kids. You can't help but wonder how these kids are familiar with big, global football stars. And from where they got those jerseys. It's hard to tell but it says everything you need to know about the aspirations of young kids in India. Their dreams are big, global and totally connected with the rest of the world. Their worlds go beyond Bollywood and Cricket. They are looking for new inspiration and new role models.
Something's happening in the world of sports that we've never seen before in India. From top to bottom, it feels like the business of sports is finally being taken seriously. Tournaments and leagues are professionalising (Hockey India League recently appointed London Olympics expert Bjorn Isberg as the new tournament director). Sports like badminton are becoming increasingly trendy (a few months ago the IBL, Indian Badminton League, became the new IPL for a short while). International clubs are setting up football academies across the country.
Star Sports launches its new network today with the ambition to change the face of sports broadcasting as we know it in India. Their "multi-sport, multi-language, multi-platform" strategy intends to shatter the cricket monopoly in India and make more sports more appealing and accessible to everyone. More live coverage, top Hindi commentary (shockingly for the first time in the country), new shows and expert analyses. All available on every screen, whenever and wherever you want it.
The new Star Sports brand is focussed on the role it will play in the lives of a billion Indian fans. The way Nike creates products that inspire people to do things they never thought they can do. As we were creating the brand it challenged the way we think about TV broadcasting and the role of the broadcaster. In a world of increasing connectivity, the role of the broadcaster is much more about designing a platform to bring various stakeholders together and connect them in a unique way with a singular direction forward. Stakeholders as varied as government organisations, leagues and tournaments, NGOs and political bodies, schools and clubs, and of course businesses and consumers.
The lack of investment in sports and sporting infrastructure is the single biggest issue the sector faces. Businesses and brands are happy to invest in anything to do with cricket but everything else feels like its too much of a risk. Even the mighty Coca Cola, always associated with football across the world, prefers to focus on cricket in India.
The new Star Sports network has the potential to change all that. Beyond providing the obvious benefits of global stars in a multitude of sports, new sporting heroes for all of India to look up to and uniting the country around sports in a powerful way, there is a more subtle dynamic at play. This new push around sports presents massive opportunities for brands to connect with people in an exciting and meaningful way. It brings together brands and consumers around new and diverse interests and initiatives. In an industry that's looking desperately for a new way to engage with people, it's perhaps just the thing the could shake up the world of advertising.
Instead of spending crores on pushing products, brands have the chance to sponsor local tournaments, play a much bigger part in peoples' everyday lives and make them believe in themselves in a radically new way -- in a way that only sports can do. Instead of the same expensive cricket stars, there's a chance for real heroes to become role models for millions of kids across the country. By building stadiums and providing opportunities for kids to play, brands that invest in sports have a much better chance of being trusted and loved by consumers. In an India that's grappling with women's issues, could sports be the answer?
The smartest brands in India are already jumping at the opportunity. Mahindra's new basketball league and RIL's big push in football are just two examples. And it's not just for the big boys. Karbonn was quick to spot an opportunity to be associated very early on with the IPL and much of its success today can be attributed to the clever gamble it made on the Karboon Kamal Katch. In the future, we're going to see many more success stories like these.
Without sounding remotely preachy, Uday Shankar, Star India's forward thinking and agenda setting CEO, always says that in the world of broadcasting and media, a company's social charter is the most important asset that it can create and the success of its brand depends entirely on the strength and depth of that social charter. The new Star Sports is about to do that. It will push the sports agenda like no one else can push it and it has the potential to create a sporting revolution in a country that's very hungry for change and urgently looking for new opportunities to win big.
As Sachin Tendulkar's outstanding career draws to a close next week, it marks the end of an era. But with a big new network and an all star line up, perhaps this is the start of something new and possibly much more exciting. Only time will tell but perhaps one day when we think of Sachin Tendulkar, we will remember his retirement also as the beginning of a golden era for sports in India.
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