Indian football's biggest cup competition, the Federation Cup, kicked off on Tuesday. India's own version of the FA Cup, albeit with an altogether different format, the Federation Cup is one of the most followed footballing events in the country. One would expect the broadcasters of the event to leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the tournament is properly covered, and is able to reach the maximum possible viewers.
However, when some fans started complaining about the quality of the live telecast on social networking sites on Tuesday evening, I wasn't really surprised. Ten Action, the broadcasters of the tournament, have made an absolute mockery of football broadcasting in recent months. Commercial breaks in between games on at least three occasions, pathetic cost-cutting measures with relation to camera-usage, and on top of that, commentary that makes fans watch most of the games on mute, have been some of the attributes of I-League live telecasts by Ten Action this season.
Their decision not to telecast Federation Cup games from Manjeri has drawn flak from various quarters in social media recently. The town Manjeri, in the state of Kerala, is situated at around 50 kms from the city of Kozhikode, and is home to a large football fan-base. The MDS Complex, which is playing host to two of the groups in this season's Cup, has attracted jam-packed attendances in the games so far, in deep contrast to the empty stands at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, the co-hosts of the tournament, which, however, has had its games being shown live. With Manjeri playing hosts to defending champions East Bengal, league leaders Bengaluru FC, former champions Dempo, and other teams like Rangdajied United and Mohammedan Sporting, which have large fan-bases themselves, Ten Action's decision displays a lack of intellect. One of the reasons given for the absence of live telecasts from Manjeri is the poor quality of the floodlights. While it is a valid reason, Ten Action could well have covered the games played in daylight, or lobbied for the evening games to have been shifted to early-noon. In today's era, sports broadcasters often force powerful sports associations to schedule events as per the television's needs. Ten Action, too, could have forced their hand with AIFF and KFA, had they been remotely interested in properly covering the tournament.
However, it is quite clear from their demeanor that neither do they care, nor are they willing to spend much of their time or money on Indian football. The quality of the coverage from Kochi, meanwhile, is amateurish at best. The camera angles, the excessive zooming into the ground at times, the poor quality of replays, absence of cameras at different angles inside the stadium, the pathetic commentary, etc., makes you want to bang your head into the wall at times.
What perhaps encourages Ten Action to keep up with its rubbish quality of broadcast is the lack of interest among other sports broadcasters to telecast the same events. In such a scenario, it would probably be most sensible on AIFF's part to approach the state-owned Doordarshan, to telecast Indian football events. Surely, things can't go worse than they already have with Ten Action. Moreover, Doordarshan's much wider coverage would be a major boon in terms of the domestic game's reach.
Now you would probably think that it wouldn't be possible for other sports broadcasters to stoop lower than Ten Action; but let me introduce you to Star Sports India. While Ten Action are accused of a poor quality of telecast and a lack of interest towards the domestic game, Star Sports' crime is a bit more serious. Star Sports India, owned by STAR TV and Fox International Channels, operates four sports channels, plus a couple of HD channels. O
ne would perhaps assume that more channels mean more live football action. However, that is not the case here. Apart from Star Sports 4, the three other channels are engaged in telecasting reruns of cricket matches. Highlight shows featuring the best performances of Indian cricketers, with cringeworthy titles like 'Perfect Pujara', 'Outstanding Ojha' (Pujara and Ojha being the surnames of a couple of Indian cricketers), classic cricket matches, etc. are run over and over again on the three other channels. Every single day! Despite having the rights to broadcast English Premier League, La Liga and Serie A games in India, and operating four different channels, it is an absolute shame that the organization telecasts games from these popular European leagues on only one of its channels. So, when games are being played simultaneously in England on a Saturday evening, only one game is shown live, while one of the two HD channels telecasts another game live. The problem, however, is that you don't see too many middle-class households with HD TV sets in India. Star Sports India's view that 'football is best enjoyed in high definition', is laughable, and roughly translates to 'football is best watched by the rich'. There have been quite a few online petitions asking Star Sports India to telecast more games, and requesting BSkyB to revoke Star Sports' broadcasting rights.
Despite this outrage, SSI do not seem to be bothered by the public opinion on them. Even if they are, they don't seem to be willing to act, for reasons best known to them. In fact, after robbing people from the live action, they have the audacity to ask their viewers to subscribe to their net package, i.e. spend extra money to watch the live games on the Star Sports website, which the group should be telecasting on its channels anyway. It is a clear display of arrogance from Star Sports India, and an unethical business practice on their part, to milk money out of consumers for something which they should be providing for free.
Unfortunately, there seems to be nobody to rein in on their activities at the moment, and as things stand, it seems Star Sports India will continue to get away with their absolutely outrageous coverage of the major European leagues, because of the absence of other sports broadcasters of a similar financial might, who can snatch away the rights of all the three leagues from them.
This is the state of football broadcasting in India, in the second decade of the 21st century. It's perhaps only in this country that Ten Action can get away with their ineptitude, or Star Sports with their immorality. Will things change in the near future? It's very hard to say; but for a change, Star Sports India will not be broadcasting any FIFA tournaments until 2020, with Sony Six bagging the rights for the same during this period. Indian fans will remember the time when Star Sports hired a couple of clowns to host their pre-match shows during the Confederations Cup: two 20-somethings, who drank Pepsi, ate popcorn and spoke gibberish in pre-match shows of a tournament of the Confederation Cup's stature! That, thankfully, won't happen again during the World Cup. At least!