Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Can Cricket Be The 'Football' For India?

One theme that was discussed at the WAN organised Digital Winners, 2007 meet (where I had been), was the importance of Football for media. Football is one great leveller. It is secular, it is popular, and thanks to media attention, it is highly glamourous.

Now, when more and more media houses are shifting their focus to the interfaces of tomorrow - web & mobile, they want something reliable to test their business models and also to minimise the risk. Here, Football comes into picture. As Noam Chomsky has said, sports is one thing that still remains in public sphere of control, totally. All other things - polity, commerec etc. are more or less, into control of other entities - State, mainly. This control helps an ordinary person to connect with the game very easily. He has full liberty of expression in the arena. Complete freedom of speech. It is like the freedom of expression, which is enjoyed by parliamentarians within parliament premises. You can cheer a team, you can boo a team, you can insult, cry, do whatever your adrenaline prompts you to. Further, an ordinary fan of the game likes not only the game, which end only in 90 minutes or so, but also whole context of game. Fan wants to see football as a complete story - story full of varied characters, their lives, conflicts and tenssions, ups and downs of the heroes etc. It is like a movie script.

This is where the media houses stand a good chance to play the roll of mediator between the game of 90 minutes and a rich story, which the fans love more. If presented in this form, the consumers are really winning to pay for the content. The content can be clips, interviews, match streaming, wallpapers, themes, commercials etc. Further strong links can be established between consumers and the sellers of the Football caps, tee-shirts, shields, shoes and so on and on, there is little limit to what can be sold.

This potential of game is now well recognised by the media houses all over the world. In many countries in Europe, newspapers devoted to football have top circulations. A telecom company like Telenor (under whose premise the Digital Winners event was held) has established a separate division named Football Telenor, which has aggressive plans for future.

The question that popped again and again in my mind was - Can the success of 'football + media', be replicated in India? India is poised to enter the 3G game on a big scale and broadband is an 'IN' thing now (Govt. of India has declared 2007 as the 'Year of Broadband'). During this transition, Cricket can be a great help for all the media industry in India. What is your take?
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