ESPN, which has the television broadcast rights to the West Bengal football up to 2005 is not showing much of the game. However, it is only showing more popular sports such as cricket. According to sources, ESPN is committed to pay around $300,000 a year to the Indian Football Association, West Bengal (IFA (WB)), for the period from 1996 to 2005.
Mr Arun Poddar, an industrialist who has become IFA (WB) president for four years, said $300,000 a year is nothing for a cash rich channel like ESPN. “ESPN is killing Indian football by showing only games like cricket,” Mr Poddar said.
According to Mr Amit Sen, football representative of ESPN (Kolkata), said the channel did show some 30-minute capsules in 1999, although it could not do so during 1997, 1998 and 2000.
ESPN had requested DD to show six crucial matches but DD declined to come up with the Rs 20-lakh rights fees. Even though DD beamed nine ties in 1998. IFA (WB) secretary Ranjit Gupta, said that ESPN had failed to show the matches since Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd did not provide the uplinking facility.
Earlier, discord between ESPN and the IFA (WB) had deprived Doordarshan viewers from watching super division soccer matches.
A number of times, ESPN had to sell slots to DD, to telecast the big ties live. But, on these occasions too, VSNL refused to reconsider ESPN’s case. IFA (WB) officials conceded that the football body had also mismanaged the issue by changing schedules abruptly and canceling matches without giving ESPN enough notice.
According Mr Poddar, the IFA (WB) is negotiating with Doordarshan for the rights to the IFA (WB) Super Division League. The IFA has to inform ESPN first if it wants to offer any Super Division events to other cable TV or satellite channels.
Mr Sen, however, said that ESPN was still willing to allow DD to promote Kolkata soccer “if it got paid”.