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The challenge is not in football's popularity but in how quickly it can grow: Aman Srivastava

With the UEFA European Championship approaching, Aman Srivastava of Sony Pictures Networks India highlights the strategic importance of securing broadcasting rights to position football in India's cricket-dominated market. Srivastava discusses the challenge of converting non-football viewers and emphasises the growth potential of football viewership through diverse and localised content strategies. 

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Pranali Tawte
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Aman

India has long been a cricket-dominant market, overshadowing other sports to the sidelines. However, football is steadily gaining ground. This monsoon brings a unique sporting overlap – the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) European Championship, set to run from June 15 to July 15, coincides with the ICC Men's T20 Cricket World Cup. This collision of two major sporting events presents a captivating battle for viewers' attention in a market traditionally swayed by cricket.

In this context, Sony Sports Network's exclusive broadcasting rights for the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Euro 2024, with live streaming available on the Sony LIV app and website, is a strategic move. Earlier this year, Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) renewed its exclusive media rights deal with the UEFA for another three seasons, extending through 2026-2027. 

Aman Srivastava, Head – Marketing, Digital Business, Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI), offers insights into Sony LIV’s approach to position football alongside cricket. He discusses the strategic imperatives on why acquiring Euro 2024 was quite a prized possession, the unique challenges and opportunities in promoting football in India, and how Sony LIV plans to leverage its comprehensive football rights to redefine sports viewership in the country.

Edited Excerpts:

What was the strategic decision behind partnering with the Euro Championship?

We have been working to build a base for football fans in India, where football is a growing sport. The Euro Championship features some of the best names in football, making it a prime event. We have already covered UEFA and the Champions League, along with the Roshn Saudi League. 

However, the Euro Championship stands out because it’s country football, which has a different stature compared to club football. It's often referred to as the "World Cup before the World Cup." The long-standing rivalries between countries create compelling moments for fans, even attracting those who may not follow the sport closely. Besides appealing to core football fans, it draws a premium audience interested in various types of content. Hence, acquiring Euro is quite a prized possession for us.

With the OTT landscape being hyper-fragmented and moving towards a hybrid model, sports play a major role in attracting audiences. Can you elaborate on the role sports play in bringing audiences to OTT platforms, especially in India?

Sports indeed bring in different sets of audiences. We cater to both the sport fan and the sports fan. A sports fan might enjoy WWE or fight sports, while a sports fan could be interested in a broader range of sports. We offer a wide variety of content, including India and international cricket, UFC, tennis with all three Grand Slams, ATP tournaments, and even chess.

 

 

 

Each sport attracts different audiences, and we aim to cover this diversity. For instance, regional preferences in India, like football in the Northeastern part or specific language content in Kerala, help us reach various geographies and audience segments. This diverse content strategy allows us to aggregate these audiences on a single platform.

Given this partnership, how does the Indian market differ in terms of football viewership, fan engagement, and commercial opportunities compared to other football-following countries?

Club football in India is still developing compared to countries where clubs are major brands. In places like England, clubs generate revenue through merchandising and other opportunities because of their established brand presence. 

In India, such a stature for football clubs is still emerging. The franchise model seen in cricket is being extended to other sports, which is a positive sign. Football is gaining momentum with clubs like Barcelona, Manchester United, and Bayern Munich opening training schools in India. Schools across the country are also promoting football, leading to a growing viewership. So, while we’re seeing rapid growth in football viewership in India, it’s not yet comparable to countries where football is the dominant sport. However, the sport’s popularity is increasing exponentially.

What are the primary challenges in promoting football in India?

The main challenge is reaching out to and converting consumers who are not in heavy football-viewing markets. Football has a core following, and certain cities and markets are very passionate about it. The challenge lies in converting non-core markets over time.



However, events like the Euro Championship and the Champions League create momentum that helps in this conversion. Social media also plays a significant role in amplifying these moments. While there is a lot of ground to cover, the growth trajectory of football viewership is promising.

What is your marketing strategy for Euro 2024?

Since relaunching our platform in 2020, we’ve been accumulating football audiences. Our strategy involves directly engaging this base and converting them back to the platform. We’re not just promoting the Euro brand but also the unique viewing experience on Sony LIV. We’ve added features like a star cam for following key players, a dugout cam, and a tactical view cam to enhance the viewing pleasure.

 

Commentary is available in six languages- English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Bengali, adding to the experience. We’re also reaching out to places where fans gather, like mass screenings or popular bars, to promote the event. Our messaging focuses on the differentiated experience of watching Euro on Sony LIV.

 

What is your media plan for this Euro 2024 partnership?

We’ll utilise all mediums—traditional and digital. Our app has seen significant engagement during major football finals, which helps boost Euro’s exposure. Print and digital campaigns will target a wider audience, while outdoor advertising will keep reminding people about the action on Sony LIV. The focus is to target football fans through these mediums effectively.

How do you plan to leverage social media for building a football fan base and engaging a younger audience?

Schools are creating football fans, and kids often influence their parents to watch. On social media, we have a large and growing fan base. Our goal is to remind them about the unique experience on Sony LIV rather than just about Euro 2024. We aim to highlight why specific matches or players are important. 

Using influencers or evangelists who analyse and talk about football will help us articulate the differentiated experience on our platform.

Apart from influencers, are there any plans to collaborate with local football clubs or other sports entities to enhance reach?

We do collaborate with local communities and clubs, as seen with the Durand Cup last year. While converting these fans isn’t difficult due to their predisposition towards Euro 2024, our focus is on early engagement in the game.

What are Sony LIV's short-term and long-term objectives for premier football properties in India?

Our goal is to retain these properties for as long as possible. With success, there will be many interested parties, but we aim to keep premier football properties with us.

How do you plan to overcome challenges in expanding football's popularity and viewership?

The challenge is not in football's popularity but in how quickly it can grow. Football, along with cricket and hockey, is growing rapidly. From school to club to country level, football is on the rise. Hence, the focus is on accelerating this growth rather than overcoming obstacles.

Do you believe the sports marketing landscape in India is evolving to accommodate sports other than cricket?

Absolutely. The interest in various sports, driven by events like the Olympics and Asian Games, is increasing. It's not just about winning medals but also about the thrill of supporting sports. Presenting sports in the right manner with a compelling narrative is crucial. Sony LIV aims to educate and engage users consistently across different sports, helping them understand the significance of each event.

Can you share some trends you foresee in sports marketing?

Commentary in regional languages has evolved, especially for sports requiring continuous updates like Formula One. Product features like different viewing angles and tactical views have become key differentiators. The trend is to present sports and athletes in a unique way, emphasising their narratives and stakes, which enhances the overall marketing strategy.

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