STAR India's bet on non-cricket sports seems to be paying with the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) recording a reach of 74.7 million on its launch day and a cumulative reach of 170.6 million in the first week. These reach figures are second only to the annual twenty-20 tournament of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
These are aggregated reach numbers across eight channels - STAR Sports 2 (English), STAR Sports 3 (Hindi), STAR Sports HD 2 (English), STAR Gold (Hindi), STAR Utsav (Hindi), Asianet Movies (Malayalam), Jalsha Movies (Bengali) and Suvarna Plus (Kannada).
The Hero ISL has outstripped other football tournaments' telecasts in the country by a large margin, including the FIFA World Cup 2014 held earlier this year, the I-League, the Calcutta Football League and the English Premier League.
In July this year, the broadcaster also telecast the Pro Kabaddi League, which went on to become the second-most viewed sporting tournament in the country after cricket with a launch reach of 66 million and went on to have a cumulative reach of 435 million throughout its tenure.
Star India COO Sanjay Gupta says: "These numbers (for football and kabaddi) indicate that there is a hunger for good quality sports. This is the first time football has been mounted on such a large scale and we have had some good quality games. This, coupled with the reach of the Star Network and our decision to air the tournament across eight channels and the marketing initiatives, has led to interest in the League (ISL), which reflects in the reach numbers. It shows that given the right platform and quality content, football holds great potential in the country."
He adds that when sliced according to geography, the reach data shows healthy numbers in not only the traditional football markets like West Bengal, Kerala and Goa, but also in tier-2 towns.
Uday Shankar, CEO of Star India, said: "The early success of the Hero Indian Super League has been phenomenal as millions of fans have thronged to watch the action - on television, on digital and in-stadia. This is a historic moment in the era of sports in India as fans embrace the global game and see a quality of football never witnessed before being played in India. This is the first step in a long journey of making India a footballing nation and providing the platform for future champions to emerge. The endeavour has been to create a world-class tournament to global production standards with the ubiquitous reach and platform of the Star network."
The League performed well on social media as well, with 2.5 billion potential impressions on digital so far. Within 24 hours of the kick off, the League dominated Twitter trends in India with a perfect score of 10 out 10 topics on web and 15 out of 17 topics on mobile. On Facebook, the League trended at No 1 in India with #IndianSuperLeague.
The traction gained by the League on starsports.com and in social media led to an increased interest by the advertisers. "There was a lot of interest in the League, but there were some brands that preferred to wait and watch. Now that the numbers are out, and the tournament is catching eyeballs, I believe many more brands will take the plunge," says Gupta.
The Hero ISL is promoted by Football Sports Development, a joint venture between IMG-Reliance and Star India. Its eight franchises will feature 61 matches over 70 days. The top four franchises in the League will contest the semi-finals and the victorious semi-finalists will meet in the grand finale on December 20. Apart from India, the tournament is being telecast across many countries in five continents in 23 languages.