Star Sports made several changes to its executive team this week, parting ways with CEO Gautam Thakar, chief marketing officer Rajiv Mathrani, executive vice president at (Star India) emerging sports Rupali Fernandes and the business head for regional sports network Ashok Namboodiri. In what is being talked about as a “slimming down” exercise, the effort – say those in the know – appears to be aimed at “getting leaner” even as the media giant continues to remain bullish with its investments in the Indian sports market.
In line with its plans going forward, the group elevated its executive vice president Sanjog Gupta to the position left vacant post Thakar’s exit. Gupta, who until now was in-charge of production and content at Star’s sports channels and has been with the company for close to a decade, will now be responsible for marketing too.
The developments have taken place less than 72 hours after Uday Shankar, the chairman at Star & Disney India, and as President at Walt Disney APAC stepped down from his position on Thursday.
However, those who track the company’s strategies in the sports sector – within the country and globally – say “Star will continue to remain bullish on cricket” in India.
With an array of sports channels and armed with Hotstar – the digital platform that was India’s offering to the Disney-Plus bouquet after the American multinational’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox in 2019 – Star had first sounded its arrival in the Indian sports circuit in 2012 when it bought the rights to Indian cricket for a whopping Rs 3,800 crore.
In 2017, the broadcast giant shelled out an eye-popping US$2.5b (Rs 16,347 cr) to buy the rights to the Indian Premier League (IPL) and close to a billion dollars (Rs 6,138 cr) to renew their deal with the Indian cricket board.
In line with the eight-year trend, sources in the company say Star will continue to invest heavily in Indian sports going forward, especially cricket. Tenders for BCCI’s all-important Indian Premier League (IPL) media rights and Indian cricket bilateral rights are expected to be brought out between 2021 and 2022 and Star-Disney is learnt to be gearing up for another go at the bidding table.
Post the announcement of Shankar’s exit, market observers have primarily raised three major talking points with regards to Star. A) Where is Shankar headed next? B) With Shankar’s exit, will Star’s interests in cricket wane, considering he was extremely aggressive and persuasive in the cricket rights market; C) Who steps into Shankar’s position and what role will Disney’s American arm play in this space going forward.
The answers aren’t simple but there’s a fair idea of what to expect, say industry executives. Shankar, who made his bones in an extremely competitive industry, “could find himself setting up an investment fund soon, possibly with James Murdoch (media mogul Rupert Murdoch‘s son)”, say those tracking this space. However, there’s no confirmation on the same yet while there are others who call it mere speculation.
Apropos of Shankar’s exit, it is understood that Star-Disney is preparing another war-chest to bid for the IPL and BCCI rights when the time arrives in a year from now and those in the know say, “expect them to let go of most overseas markets – possibly ICC too – and concentrate only on India”.
Who steps into Shankar’s position? Sources say current managing director K Madhavan is expected to continue in the same role while Disney is expected to appoint a new president for the APAC role very soon.