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Get the stars, groom the students
- Sports channel to kick off coverage, exhibition tours, academy

After bringing the Beckhams, the Zidanes and the Henrys into our drawing rooms and making sure that the weekends and midweek late nights are not the same again, ESPN-STAR Sports is keen to develop Calcutta football as a saleable brand.

In its second foray into the city’s soccer scenario, the sports content provider is keen to “nurture and grow” the game with “a long-term perspective”. While live coverage — which kicks off with the forthcoming IFA Shield — will be the main vehicle, coaching clinics, exhibition tours by Premiership clubs, and even an academy for Bengal and the Northeast are very much a part of the broadcaster’s backroom strategy sessions.

“With an eye on integrating Calcutta football coverage with our international fare, we would keep on adding value through technology and critical inputs. We would also like to invest at the grassroots level of the sport in this region,” R.C. Venkateish, managing director, ESPN Software Pvt. Ltd, said on Monday.

Penetrating the school level is high on the group’s Calcutta agenda to grow its five core products — cricket, football, tennis, Formula One and hockey. ESPN Champs, a programme to build awareness and disseminate sports information, will target students of around 75 city schools. Soccer would again be the key striker at the schools initiative, with various contests, bulletin boards, superstar-linked events, promos and even sports-linked scholarships designed to involve the Calcutta youth.

On the heels of the Premier League Asia Cup in Kuala Lumpur, it’s just a matter of time before Calcutta plays host to some “middle-rung” team from the English Premiership or the Spanish La Liga.

As far as the city’s soccer on the small screen goes, after the two semi-finals and the final of the Shield, live coverage of the Super Division League next season is “a distinct possibility”. And the technical crew of ESPN is on the ball to package the Calcutta product to a national audience, electronic video storage, state-of-the-art graphics, multiple camera positions and all.

“We are here with a serious commitment, since the company identifies Calcutta soccer as a main thrust area," stressed Venkateish. While hunt for corporate sponsors with the right synergy is on, the ESPN brass is busy dredging into captive resources to develop “a structured augmentation plan” for Calcutta's favourite sport.

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