Despite not being remotely close to qualifying for the FIFA World Cup, Indians have always greeted the tournament with immense excitement. People living in West Bengal, Kerala, Goa and Northeast India have time and again expressed their passion for their favourite teams like Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, Germany and France.
In a recent media report, incumbent rights holder Sony Pictures Networks officials said that they were expecting viewership for this year’s edition to cross 100 million viewers. Sony’s digital content arm SonyLiv will live stream all the World Cup games in India.
In the last edition, around 50 million viewers tuned in to watch the event with regional feeds getting exceptional numbers. Bengali channel Sony Aath’s channel share in West Bengal saw a 204% growth, while female viewership of the tournament saw a spike, accounting for 45 percent of the 9.8 million viewers in the state.
The 2017 under-17 FIFA World Cup, which was held in India, garnered a cumulative viewership of 47 million.
Until 1998, state broadcaster Doordarshan and AIR were the go-to mediums, as far as coverage of the tournament was concerned. In 2002, Ten Sports – a new entrant – then backed by Dubai-based Abdul Rahman Bukhatir’s Taj Group, bagged telecast rights of the event for a meagre $3 million. Due to its limited distribution arrangements with MSOs and last-mile cable operators, many football lovers in the country were not able to catch live action of the initial stages of the tournament.
ESPN-Star then got into action and picked up telecast rights of the tournament for the next two editions for $9 million and $40 million respectively and introduced feeds in regional languages. Sony Pictures Networks, which had a fledgling sports bouquet in 2014, bagged the rights for all FIFA events until 2018 for $90 million.
So, does the FIFA World Cup deliver a bang for the buck for sports broadcasters?
The event has helped sports broadcasters gain a foothold in a highly competitive and cash-guzzling genre where sports rights of premier events, especially cricket, come at a premium.
Ten Sports rode piggyback on the FIFA World Cup and was able to establish itself as a premier sports channel. Sony’s sports cluster too got a boost after the World Cup deal and gave it confidence to invest in the sports network.
Going by figures, there’s absolutely no doubt that the 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup will be lapped up by Indian fans, more so because of timings.