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ESPN-Star Sports to play up hockey — Plans live telecasts

Our Bureau

New Delhi , March 8

ESPN-Star Sports is attempting to do for hockey what Kerry Packer did for cricket.

The sports broadcaster, in association with the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and Leisure Sports Management, is hoping to popularise the national game by airing an annual domestic hockey league tournament.

And the format of the game has been modified to suit the needs of television. The 70-minute game will be broken into four quarters of 17 minutes and 30 seconds to accommodate advertisers and sponsors, and the matches would be played on Astro Turf under floodlights. The concept of time-outs has also been introduced in order to liven up the game.

ESPN-Star Sports has entered into a 10-year association with the IHF. According to Mr R.C. Venkateish, Managing Director, ESPN Software India, "We will now work towards creating an exciting hockey property, using international television production standards that will attract and hold viewer appeal."

The league will have two tiers having five teams each in the first year. Tier I will be called the Premier Division and Tier II will be called Second Division. The broadcaster will air all the matches played by Tier I live, while Tier II matches will also be shown.

Said Mr K.P.S. Gill, President of IHF: "Domestic hockey league is the result of a lot of deliberations and discussion over the last two years. The final form of the tournament that has emerged is a truly sleek, unique league to be played in a world-class format with a promise of attracting blue-chip companies, ticket sales, viewership and players alike."

ESPN Software expects to rope in advertisers for the hockey game and cash in on the resurgence of the game. It hopes that some of its existing sponsors would also move into this game. The total prize money for the tournament is Rs 71 lakh, but the broadcaster was not willing to put a number to the total cost of putting together the tournament.

The new initiative by ESPN-Star Sports will broad-base programming content on the channel. "Besides cricket, we have tennis, football and F-1 racing. By adding hockey, we are broadening our content," said Mr Venkateish.

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