European football clubs have finally begun to tap their large fan base in India. English clubs like Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United as well as Germany's Bayern Munich have queued up to capitalise on their fan base in the country and create new business opportunities.
Experts have estimated that the huge following for European football in India is good reason for these clubs to get active in the country.
Berlin-based www.Indianfootball.com's CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Arunava Chaudhuri, has estimated that there are over 160 million football fans in India and 20 million active footballers. In comparison, Germany - where the sport has a long tradition - has 16.3 million active footballers.
The clubs have taken different approaches to the Indian market. Liverpool, for example, is planning to set up a centre of excellence in Pune, which is expected to be formally inaugurated next week. While the club could not be reached for comments, it is believed that this new centre will first look to develop support infrastructure such as management and physiotherapists before it gets into active training.
Bayern Munich is working with the West Bengal government to set up an academy in Burdwan. Manchester United had earlier announced plans to work with the Bharti Group to set up a National Football Academy. The status of this $100-million project is, however, not clear now. Manchester United has also made its content available exclusively to Airtel subscribers in India. Subscribers will also get to train at the Manchester United Soccer Schools run by Manchester United Merchandising.
Merchandise, which is an important source of revenue for these clubs, is actually the big reason that is driving the football clubs to India. At a recent seminar hosted by the UK-India Business Council on bringing European sports to India, Adidas' head of global sports marketing, Jocelyn Robiot, said that the estimated size of the sportswear market in India is euro 370 million (Rs 2,300 crore) of which Adidas along with Reebok controls 75 per cent. "After cricket, football is clearly the second most popular sport in India, followed by badminton and tennis," he said.
"Merchandise is big business for these clubs. In Germany, even water and milk are branded with the club logos and they sell well," said Chaudhuri. As a keen follower of the game worldwide, he believes that other European teams like Barcelona, AC Milan and Real Madrid too are now eyeing India to develop a fan base.
Most business interests in bringing European football to India in a big way rests on the sheer size and buying power of the youth in India. The 325 million Indians in the age group of 20-35 are a compelling destination for these clubs.
Chelsea Football Club's CEO, Peter Kenyon, said that football in India is bracketed with other popular youth activities likes fashion, music and films. After scouting for business opportunities in India for over a year now, he said, the youth in India are looking at football as their game as much as cricket was their fathers'.
Kenyon said the lack of sports infrastructure and star players are two of the biggest challenges for the success of football in India so far. He added that these are also the areas of expertise the European clubs can bring to India.