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India Football Forum 2018 signals paradigm shift in stakeholders’ approach towards Indian football!

The Star Sports India Football Forum (IFF) 2018 on Friday, November 30 focused on the long-term plan of advancing the game of football amongst stakeholders and major players in the game’s ecosystem in India.

Building on this and other touch points, THE ELEPHANT IS STARTING TO RUN was the core proposition principally up for discussion and analysis during IFF 2018, the country’s annual industry event for major players in the football ecosystem, that took place here this year at the Novotel Juhu.

Organised by SportzPower, the annual flagship conference of India’s definitive sports business platform, which witnessed a record turnout, was divided broadly into four intense knowledge sessions of insights and discussion – ‘Building a Viable Football Ecosystem’, ‘The Future is Digital’, ‘Putting the Fan Front and Centre’ and ‘Internet and Mobile Key to Experiential Nirvana’.

Star Sports India marketing head Rajiv Mathrani kickstarted proceedings, in what was his first appearance at a public forum since entering into his new role from Airtel India in September this year. In his keynote address, Mathrani was effusive in his praise for the increasing number of grassroots programs for the youth in the country. In addition, he asserted that the Indian Super League (ISL) 2018 had seen heightened fan interest for the tournament courtesy their marketing campaign #FanBannaPadega that went viral on social media.

With the funding towards ISL clubs rising this season from broadcast rights and sponsorships after the Star and Reliance deal being re-worked following IMG’s exit, the ISL’s numbers were at par with a tournament like the FIFA World Cup, he noted.

Amongst ISL clubs, IQuest CEO Nitin Kukreja (the former Star Sports CEO now heads the company that owns and operates Kerala Blasters), offered a reality check on the present state of affairs of the ISL, pointing out that the owners of the 10 franchises in the league would have to be prepared to invest in the region of Rs 250 million annually for the next eight years, since the success of ISL would determine the road for Indian football in the future.

Toted up, that adds up to well over to Rs. 20 billion needed to be invested in the ecosystem during this times frame collectively by the 10 teams.

Delhi Dynamos CEO Ashish Shah believes that his current as well as previous experience with Chennaiyin FC has taught him the importance of club CEOs convincing their owners on financial viability if investment has to be upped. Shah considers the club fortunate as it has already inherited Delhi’s existing culture of children being pushed to play football by their HNI parents, making it a great branding opportunity for the Dynamos.

LaLiga India country manager Jose Antonio Cachaza echoed the views of ISL teams, backing the importance of young, urban, educated Indians across the country and not just regions, as a strong economic viability can do a world of good to the ecosystem. He also called for more corporate investment, considering that India is the sixth largest economy in the world.

In another major revelation, AIFF general secretary Kushal Das announced that more youth-oriented national level competitions would be introduced by March-April 2019 starting from the state of Uttar Pradesh, following its successful partnership with the Indian government project ‘Mission XI Million’ at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India last year. Das pointed out that Indian football had received a boost in the form of 280 teams in AIFF’s youth leagues and 99 baby leagues active at present.

Amongst the other highlights of the day, Sony Pictures Networks India was well represented by the company’s sports business head Prasana Krishnan and digital business head Uday Sodhi.

Krishnan strongly believes that ‘Broadcast and digital mediums can sustain and run well in parallel in India even in the future. Mobile phones are replacing the second television in homes.’ He emphasized on the second-screen experience being Sony’s USP in engaging with fans crazy about football, as seen during the FIFA World Cup 2018. Krishnan credited the availability of advanced technologies and larger economies of scales reducing costs for Sony’s success in broadcasting tournaments in regional languages in sports other than cricket.

On the other hand, Sodhi focused on Sony’s digital progress, lauding the interest of 35 advertisers for its OTT platform during the FIFA WC. Drawing on data analytics and market research, Sodhi asserted that within the next four years, India would gain 150 million football viewers online, making the market the biggest in the world. This would be an essential step for Sony (and rival Star) to overcome the challenge of finding different ways of monetization as he also called for making digital payments easier for consumers since there is no lack of ability in this regard.

IFF 2018 had Star Sports as its Lead Partner, with the Gold Partner being Hero Motocorp. For the “patron sponsor” of Indian football, partnering the India Football Forum marked a for for the world’s largest two-wheeler company in the business conference arena.

Knowledge Session Partners at IFF 2018 were Sony Pictures Networks and Kerala Blasters FC. Support Partners included adidas, Mumbai City FC, Mumbai Live, IISM, and Vector X.

IFF 2018 celebrated another high-powered speaker roster that included:

•    G SRINIVVASAN, Group Head, Marketing and Strategy, Reliance Sports
•    ANEESH MADANI, Head, Sports Partnerships APAC, Twitter
•    HRISHIKESH SHENDE, Director Emerging Markets – Heartbeat Sports & Basketball, adidas
•    YANNICK COLACO, Vice President & Managing Director, NBA India
•    INDRANIL DAS BLAH, CEO, Mumbai City FC
•    ASHISH SHAH, CEO, Delhi Dynamos FC
•    ARUNAVA CHAUDHURI, Strategic Advisor, RoundGlass Sports
•    LV KRISHNAN, CEO, TAM India
•    VINIT KARNIK, Business head, ESP Properties
•    CHIRAAG PAUL, Founder & CEO, Proem Sports Analytics
•    ELBERT D’SILVA, Head, Partnerships, BARC India
•    PIYUSH KUMAR, Founder, Rooter
•    NILESH KULKARNI, Director, International Institute of Sports Management
•    PIYUSH CHOUDHARY, Director of Sales, Indian Subcontinent, Sportradar

IFF 2018 was hosted by SportzPower co-founder Thomas Abraham and had Sports Consultant & Football Strategist Arunava Chaudhari as the Conference Moderator.

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