January 17, 2016

Those four red letters are back on TV in India

What the launch of SONYESPN means for you and ESPNcricinfo

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For many years we have been producing a sports diary in India as a little New Year present for friends and associates, and in return we receive some charming notes about how much they love it. But in 2014, this message popped on my Facebook timeline. It was from a former employee of ESPNStar, a prominent figure on the sports-management circuit. It read:

"I am not a big one for brands, but ESPN is different. To not be able to switch on a television set [in India] and see the ESPN logo really disturbed me at some level. And then Cricinfo's 2014 diary arrived… it's just so reassuring to see those 4 letters in red"

It has stayed with me not merely because it was unusual but for the wider truth it conveyed. To us, it was a reaffirmation of what we feel in our bones.

There are some brands that are successful; some are admired and some loved. ESPN, I'd say at the risk of self-indulgence, is one of the rare brands that ticks every box. The fact that it is a sports brand helps: connecting people to what they love and making them feel good about it is good business.

But sport is not merely business at ESPN. It is at the core of what we do. "Serving sports fans" is not just a powerful mission statement but a job description. And because we love sport ourselves, our job feels like a gift. It is inevitable that this should radiate and touch everyone else in our world. For many, ESPN becomes, organically, part of the sporting life.

In the truest sense, ESPN never left Indian shores. Eight years ago, Cricinfo found a natural home in the ESPN family, and ESPNcricinfo has been headquartered in cricket's real home ever since.

When the ESPN logo disappeared off television screens in this region sometime towards the end of 2013, the intent was always to return. A 2014 survey of the multisport audience in India showed that 92% of Indian sports fans associated ESPN with sports coverage, and 57% had remained faithful followers on digital and social media. And they perceived ESPN to be a top international specialist in sport, best in class, and a trendsetter. Not getting back on television screens in this part of the world was never an option; it only took us this long because we were obliged to honour our commitment to the terms of separation from our previous partner.

So, to my friend, and to all those who love sport: those four letters are now back, with the values and commitment to sports coverage they represent, sitting snugly alongside the name of our new collaborator.

Sony and the IPL go hand in hand, of course, but the Sony sports channels also host the FIFA World Cup, La Liga, Euro football, and the Australian Open. SONYESPN SD and HD channels go on air with the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Sporting Gijon today. The Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year, will follow soon.

This is also an opportunity for ESPNcricinfo to extend its reach to television. Video has become an elementary and vital part of our storytelling and analysis on the website, and during the last World Cup, our Match Point show from Sydney harbour was broadcast on ESPN channels around the world. It is natural that an ESPNcricinfo show should become a regular on SONYESPN.

Soon we will launch a multisport Indian edition of ESPN.com, co-branded with SONYESPN. It will bring together gold-standard coverage of international sport from ESPN platforms, live streaming and highlights from Sony for some events, and eventually, the ESPNcricinfo brand of coverage for other sports of interest to fans in India and the subcontinent. Combining ESPNcricinfo's digital platforms, the India edition of espn.com, and the SONYESPN television channels, we will further deliver on our stated intent of "serving sports fans anytime, anywhere".

More about that later. For the moment, join us in celebrating the return to living rooms of a much-loved sporting companion.

Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo. @sambitbal

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