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The lintel of a doorway on the third floor of Rev. Zairema Building in a busy street running through Aizawl’s Zarkawt locality reads Zonet. Inside, in the big corner room with the view of city streets, sits Lalnunpuia and LV Lalthantluanga, both credited for the television revolution in Mizoram.
Zonet Cable TV Pvt. Ltd was founded in 2004 by Mizo journalists K. Sapdanga (father of Lalnunpuia), editor and publisher of Vanglaini, Vanneihtluanga (father of Lalthantluanga), one of the most celebrated writers in the state and editor of Mizo monthly Lengzem, and RK Lianzuala, a former news editor of All India Radio.
School buddies and management graduates from a private institute in Delhi, Lanunpuia and Lalthantluanga joined the channel in 2009 to take up full responsibilities of the network. “We were nervous, but at the same time excited,” recalls Lalthantluanga. “The dream was to build the biggest cable network in the state and change television shows in the state,” says Lalnunpuia.
Their big punt was football. The channel helped Mizoram Football Association introduce the Mizoram Premier League and inked a deal worth Rs. 1.25 crore in 2012. The duo expanded the scope of television in the state by introducing live football matches and other sports.
“Who will offer Rs 1.25 crore for a state league? In terms of money, we lose around 30 per cent annually, but we believe to be a part of the Mizoram football history is worth the loss. We are extremely happy we could do something for the state football,” says Lalthantluanga. In 2017, the channel signed a new five-year deal with Mizoram Football Association worth Rs.1.5 crore.
Before Zonet, television channels in Mizoram were all about entertainment news, music and politics. But now sports gets prime time space. This has helped gain viewers and Zonet literally dominates the television space in the state.
This money has had a positive impact on state football. “Just a few years ago, the top football league in the state was played in a mud or clay field. Zonet has done an incredible job,” says club owner Malsawmdawngzela Hrahsel.
Most professional Mizo footballers like Lalruatthara, Laldanmawia Ralte, Brandon VL Remdika and Lalramchullova who shine at the national stage now are all products of MPL. “MPL is not just a TV show, it also creates jobs, which was one of our main aims when we started. In its first season, a player’s average monthly salary was not even close to Rs 8,000. Today, it is around Rs 14,000,” explains Lalthantluanga, a slight smile flickering across his face.
There has been a domino effect too. “When MPL became a success, other sports associations in the state wanted to strike a deal with us, which we happily entertained,” says Lalthantluanga, seated behind his desk at Zonet office.
While MPL is now among the best football leagues in the country, Zonet has now inked deals with the Mizoram Basketball Association, Mizoram Table Tennis Association (MTTA), Mizoram Tennis Association (MTA) and All Mizoram Mixed Martial Arts Association (MMA) and created leagues for these sports associations. “We might actually be the television channel with the most sports deal in the country,” Lalnunpuia ponders.
In February 2015, the Mizoram Super League for basketball was started. This year, MSL’s Lalrina Renthlei was selected for the national basketball team, while the player-coach of MSL club Khatla TBL, H. Laldinsanga, helped India win FIBA U-18 Championship as assistant coach.
“Besides the MPL and MSL, we also invest in the Mizoram Hexa League (table tennis) and Mizoram Fight League (MFL). We have also reached an agreement with the Mizoram Tennis Association (MTA) to start Challenger Tennis League this year,” says Lalnunpuia.