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Indian football: Is broadcasting letting down the growth?

Published at :October 17, 2019 at 8:18 PM
Modified at :October 19, 2019 at 2:19 AM
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Several leagues,  including the most prominent ones in the country do not get televised during the season.

There are few encouraging signs indicating how the development of Indian football is going in the right direction. After India’s historic draw against AFC Asian Cup champions Qatar- becoming only the fourth nation to keep a clean-sheet against them in 2019- the morale is at an all-time high.

After somewhat losing interest, the masses are again gaining the passion to cheer on the Blue Tigers. The Salt Lake Stadium was packed after head coach Igor Stimac pleaded them to fill it out for India’s next FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Bangladesh on October 15. What was astonishing to see was that the fans did not let the Indian side down.

When it comes to around the clock club football, India has also seen a major rise in certain fan bases around the country. The Kolkata clubs lead the way with their massive support, but the dedicated support for Kerala Blasters, Bengaluru FC, FC Goa and clubs from the northeast ( NorthEast United FC, Aizawl FC, NEROCA FC, TRAU FC) can’t be overruled. With other clubs aiming to multiply their popularity, Indian football stands at a point where there’s a crucial need to amplify its reach around the country.

However, the broadcasting standards remain at a disappointing low. Of course, the Indian Super League (ISL) might get multi-channel, high definition broadcast for its games, but the same isn’t afforded to other leagues.

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The I-League, for one, has been the harshest victim of substandard broadcasting over the past few years. As the Star Sports Network owns its broadcasting rights, only that particular network can legally telecast it on its channels or streaming platforms. Over the years, Star Sports has tried to increase the number of games broadcast in the I-League, before things broke down last season.

With expenses at a bare minimum, the games were telecast in extremely poor quality. Some of the former I-League champions Minerva Punjab’s home matches were displayed by using some very substandard cameras. The display quality of the games was equal to recording it via any mobile phone nowadays, with it becoming so bad after a point that fans found it impossible to recognize what was going on.

Of course, after meeting some rebellion from the I-Leagues clubs, Star and Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) together decided to only telecast a select few matches in the second half of last season. A handful of Minerva’s matches were televised due to them being in a war of attrition with the governing body, while many other mid-table sides found their games getting no coverage at all.

This was especially baffling considering the I-League had won the Silver Medal at the Sports Industry Awards and Conference ceremony last year in the “Best Development Football League” category. Thanks to its cut-throat competitiveness and spectacular underdog stories, provided in the lowly sides winning the championship, the league caught the eye of reputed governing bodies appreciating it’s growth.

2019-20 Season

However, ahead of the I-League's 2019-20 season, there’s yet to be a decision made on the broadcast of the games. There’s also no fixture list released, which is expected a few weeks before the competition begins. This effects the clubs, who can’t rope in more sponsors.

Despite the likes of NEROCA FC showing impressive attendance records over the seasons, Gokulam Kerala and Chennai City FC gaining more popularity, the lack of proper broadcasting is stopping them from becoming booming football clubs. Getting a larger fan base will give them more exposure towards sponsors, helping improve their infrastructure, bring up more budding youngsters and play their part in improving the grassroots footballing standards.

Calcutta Football League

Moving away from the I-League, even the local leagues don’t get the proper broadcasting quality they deserve. While the popular Calcutta Football League (CFL)’s broadcasting rights were with Sadhana News in the recently concluded season, the quality of the telecast is enough to take one on a nostalgia trip to the 1990s. Indeed, the lack of an HD broadcast in improper conditions has frustrated the league's faithful.

Durand Cup

The recently concluded Durand Cup saw only selected matches of the tournament being shown on television. While some of the best teams from around the country like Real Kashmir FC, Chennai City FC, FC Goa and so on were playing in the tournament, there was no broadcast from venues out of Kolkata (Kalyani, Howrah Maidan). An entertainment app, Addatimes, was supposed to stream the tournament - however, the games were not shown on television.

Delhi Senior Division

The Delhi Senior Division tied up with MyCujoo as its official partner for streaming the matches. However, the matches are not available on television.

Shillong Premier League

The Shillong Premier League does not have an official broadcaster, however, highlights of the games are available digitally.

Goa Professional League

The Goa Professional League also does not have a telecast partner.

Indian Football team

Perhaps some of its competitors can take a note on improving exposure for Indian football by helping the masses discover the bright quality from the northeast. Star, for one, surprised many when it failed to deliver HD broadcast for India’s FIFA World Cup qualifying opener against Oman.

While it’s streaming platform, Hotstar, did stream in HD, the television channels decided to show it in SD because of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) being shown on the HD channels instead.

What was surprising was, despite having many HD channels, Star could not allot even one for the Indian team's game against Oman, which raises questions about whether they should continue to hold the rights to telecast national team games.

Mizoram Premier League

On a rather surprisingly pleasant note, Sony LIV has been telecasting matches from the Mizoram Premier League, which has seen its standards rise because of the ever-growing development of football in the region. The games are also available on television locally on Zonet Cable.

It has  been one of the best professionally-organized leagues in the country for long. Even before the introduction of Sony LIV, Zonet Cable has telecast it for a couple of seasons in the past.

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The lack of quality broadcasting for the impressive Indian youth teams under Bibiano Fernandes and Floyd Pinto is keeping the brooding fans in the dark. The Indian Women’s League also gets shown only on Facebook in a substandard quality at times and anyone barely watches.

While the ISL gets the royal treatment by being displayed in the highest quality in the prime-time slot thanks to FSDL’s influence, Indian football’s exposure is still at a bare minimum. Broadcasters must venture to give proper coverage to every prominent league’s games and display it at times when sports-lovers tend to tune in to their channels.

Cricket still tends to get the lion’s share of attention due to it’s unmatched popularity across the nation. However, even that sport didn’t become famous over a fortnight. Indian football is on the rise and has the potential to become something special very soon.

Unless the broadcasters, as well as organizers, take note to elevate its popularity through telecasting mediums, all the hard work for the development will eventually go to waste.