19th September 2012 2:55 pm IST. The stage is set; the Federation Cup will kick-off the new season of Indian football in another 5 minutes. You are with your remote hooked to your TV. Ten Action showing some random stuff before the real action starts. But it’s already 10 minutes past 3pm now. They are showing footage from UEFA Champions League 2011-12. You hope it’s just a delay. Half an hour later you are convinced, its not on TV! You re-check the Ten Action schedule on their website and it’s gone!
Quite a horror story! But this is a story we lived and might have to live many more times in the future unless something drastic is brought about in Indian football. Today I will tell you why you are unable to watch your teams playing and who are responsible for this.
Why Ten Sports initially promised and then backed out?
The IMG-Reliance were in talks with multiple broadcasters including Ten Sports. Finally Ten Sports were given the deal but they agreed to pay IMG-R only for the telecast rights which meant that IMG-R would have had to find production partners to cover the game with a team of cameramen and production unit. Seeing no other option, IMG-R lapped it up and went on a hunt for production partners. But the amount they would have had to pay for that was well over and above what they were getting from Ten Action for broadcasting it. This obviously did not make much business sense.
So, without a production team at work, there was no way Ten Sports could have beamed it and they removed it from the schedule.
Why Ten Sports did not want to produce the matches too?
If our sources are to be believed, they had wanted to do it actually. Their initial offer was for the complete rights of Federation Cup and I-league including production and telecast. But astonishing it may seem, the price offered to IMG-R was 10 percent of what they got for last season.
But I wouldn’t blame Ten Sports much for this. The product that the Federation Cup has turned out to be, it is unlikely to be bought by anyone. I could have posted the pictures of the ground condition but that would make you sick (CLICK HERE to get sick).
Why Federation Cup 2012 is a product that no one would buy.
When Zee Sports(now Ten Sports) had entered Indian Football, they marketed the Federation Cup very well. Not a long time ago, Federation Cup had title sponsors (Alchemist in 2005, Peerless in 2006 and Hero Cycles in 2007) and multiple co-sponsors, matches played under flood-lights at viewer-friendly times and warm build up to the tournament through TV promos.
What has remained of it is a skeletal shadow of the past. The AIFF wasn’t even sure where to host the matches. Just when the teams had started gathering in Ranchi, they shifted it to Jamshedpur citing poor ground conditions which apparently had been inspected in person before approval. This is not the first time that such thing has happened. In 2008 they shifted the venue from New Delhi to Kolkata just 1 week before kick-off. The same year Federation Cup failed to manage a sponsor; the trend continues.
A well placed source says, “Shifting the match to Jamshedpur dashed all the hopes of TV coverage. The stadium in Ranchi has floodlights and the matches could have been more spectator-friendly. There was hardly any selling-point left after this”.
If the ground condition was the reason, shifting the matches to Jamshedpur defeats the purpose. Seeing the images from Jamshedpur, even I would refuse to play for money, let alone the clubs with all the professional players.
With the grounds turning paddy field, the players are at all-time high risk of injury. There is even a silent threat of clubs pulling out of the Federation Cup looming large.
After all this, who would put their money on such an invalid tournament?
Can IMG-Reliance be blamed for this?
Yes and No. IMG-Reliance is the commercial and broadcast partner of AIFF and it’s their job to get sponsors and telecast for the AIFF conducted tournaments. So, all the fingers point to them. Obviously it’s a failure on their part. But if you expect a salesman to sell an invalid product, then you are asking too much of him.
It is learnt that the amounts paid out by regional and national broadcasters were leaked to the public and it turned out that the national broadcaster had paid much lesser than the regional one. This is now being cited by the regional broadcasters and even they are not agreeing to pay more for the telecast rights.
As of now, the telecast of I-league too is in limbo.
What IMG-R could have done.
AIFF had released tentative calender for the Federation Cup well in advance, although the exact schedule and the venue were not detailed. IMG-Reliance could have drawn out a plan and pressurized the AIFF to act according to it. This would have meant strategic selection of venues, finalizing broadcast partners, more time to negotiate with the sponsors and a marketable product.
Surely IMG-R have all-encompassing rights of Indian football, they could have pressurized AIFF. The fact that it was not done casts doubts in the minds of Indian football fans about the intentions of IMG-R. Many have started to think that IMG-R is deliberately trying to undermine the traditional AIFF tournaments to push ahead its brainchild, the IPL-style football league.
Sooner or later, they will have to make their stand clear on it.
What the Indian football clubs could have done.
One cannot help feeling sorry for the Indian football clubs. They have been at the receiving end of everything. This year, most of the clubs have put in the best of their efforts to bring in quality foreigners. Dempo signed former Arsenal player Rohan Ricketts while Prayag signed Carlos Hernandez. A lot of other teams have built equally strong squad making this season the most awaited one for the Indian football fans. But that is the best they can do about it. They have contributed their part to make the tournament worthy of attention one believes.
What the AIFF could have done.
Well they could have done a lot of things that they did not do. Unbelievably, they change the venue of such an important tournament just 1 week in advance. This doesn’t ever happen even in tournaments held in our locality. They should also send some real expert to inspect the ground conditions rather than someone who would rather do sightseeing.
An important tournament like this should have it’s venue and schedule finalized months in advance so that the talks with broadcasters and sponsors will be held on firm footing.
One a more ambitious note, adding an European team, even if U23, would get the attention of a large number of people interested including potential sponsors.
Last but not the least, AIFF should learn to keep its secrets. You cannot make the amounts involved in the deals public unless it is something to boast about!
One hopes, AIFF will learn from the mistakes they are committing again and again. On a lot of fronts, we are seeing improvements like youth development. But they have to get out of this stupor as fast as possible. If AIFF dreams to host the u17 FIFA World Cup, the Federation Cup 2012 surely cannot talk much for it.