Can football score with the Indian audiences?

Reports say the sport is second only to cricket, with the popular English Premier League (EPL), enjoying a viewership of 53 TVTs across 216 matches in 2013. But will the ISL and the sport in India gain much from the impressive numbers?

e4m by Collin Furtado
Updated: Sep 30, 2014 12:47 PM  | 5 min read
Can football score with the Indian audiences?

Viewership for football has been growing steadily in India. The FIFA World Cup 2014 attracted 62 million viewers till the semi-final stage, despite the late night timings. According to a study by TAM Sports, the sports arm of TAM Media Research, “Football - Consumption by the Indian Television Audience” the number of viewers in India increased from just 83 million in 2008 to 155 million in 2012. It has also attracted 60 per cent more audience from 2005 to 2009. Football now in India is also said to be second to cricket, which according to TAM subscribers, was 176 million in 2012. The Barclay’s English Premier League (EPL), which is the most followed football league in India, had a viewership of 53 TVTs across 216 matches in 2013. This is said to have increased considerably since last year. The league also engages 1.48 million Indian fans on social media every week, which is also said to be the highest in a country according to media report by Business Standard.

But what do these numbers finally add up to? Does football in India have enough viewership to bring in revenues? Does it have the potential to compete with cricket?

Potential of the beautiful game

According to the Sportz Power-GroupM ESP India Sports Sponsorship Report 2014, “Sporting Nation in the Making” the huge underlying potential of football is yet to translate into deliveries. It goes on to say that if and when the sport makes that big leap forward, the rise will be phenomenal.

Commenting on this Vinit Karnik, National Director, Group M ESP said, “Indian football has just started. Football has the highest viewership in India after cricket. The international football footprint is increasing every month. We have seen the awareness that EPL and the European leagues have created and already have the numbers (viewership) of FIFA in the public domain. Football’s fan following in India is increasing every day and it is also reflected on the fan pages of the various clubs. All this is good news for Indian football and the right time for ISL to launch. We hope the League toll help grow the sport and spawn developmental programmes they way it happened with cricket in 1984.”  

While viewership for football has grown, it has largely been limited to international leagues such as the EPL. Indian football leagues, like the I-League, do not enjoy the same viewership from the Indian audience. The Indian Super League is yet to kick off and its success is yet to be established.

The lack of viewership for Indian football league shows on the lack of revenues. According to the GroupM ESP report, the on-ground sponsorship money that Indian football attracted in the 2012 calendar was Rs 164.5 million ($3.05 million) in comparison to the $3.3 billion one of the richest football club, Real Madrid was able to generate during the year. However, the report says that this can change. FIFA President Sepp Blatter described football in India as a sleeping giant and has potential with the 1.2 billion population that it holds. The report further says that with FIFA granting India the rights to host the Under-17 World Cup in 2017, the sport to gather momentum in the country with all existing football infrastructure being upgraded in the country.

“As already pointed out, there is money coming into the game, and multiple grassroots initiatives are cropping up across the country, as various players big and small look to leverage the potential that football offers. The biggest deal of course being the agreement the AIFF signed in late 2010 with IMG Reliance (IMG-R), an equal joint venture between the world's biggest sports management company and India's richest corporate. The agreement, valued at Rs.7 billion ($140 million) over 15 years, gave IMG-R all commercial rights to the professional game in India,” said the GroupM ESP report.

Though currently cricket contributes around 80-85 per cent of the total television sports media revenues, football is expected to grow in terms of television revenues in the coming years. “Other sports are also gaining prominence, especially football, though interest remains predominantly for international leagues/tournaments. That is expected as the I-League improves as a television-friendly product and also with the launch of the Indian Super League (ISL) later this year,” said the report.

Brands on football’s potential

With more and more young people taking to football, brands are beginning to wake up to its potential as a game changer. Though the game has mostly been popular in certain states such as West Bengal, Kerala, Goa and the North Eastern regions of the country, with the world cup and online growth, the sport is making deeper inroads, expanding its reach.

Viral Oza, Managing Director, Nokia India, which earmarks 10-12 per cent of its marketing budget for sports properties, in the report spoke about the brand’s association with Shillong Lajong FC, “This was a very hardworking decision. Football is big in NE and our cricket sponsorships did not reflect a rub off, hence this association. Football is going to be big in India and we have seen the club culture grow at a very rapid pace; this is the principle reason behind signing up with FC Barcelona as India Partners.”

Homi Battiwalla, EVP, PepsiCo India in the report spoke about spending on both cricket and football in the country. “Cricket is a sport which Pepsi has been associated with for close to two decades; and when we launched our first ever football campaign in the country in 2011, it didn't mean that we were alienating ourselves from cricket. For us at brand Pepsi, cricket is one of the strongest youth platforms only after Bollywood, and football is emerging in India like never before. We are proud to be associated with both sporting platforms and going forward, cricket and football will both co-exist in our marketing calendar,” he said.

Despite big-ticket brands adding their muscle to football’s growing popularity in India, scepticism will persist until and unless Indian football leagues are able to package the sport more attractively and get the kind of viewership and fan following that the international clubs enjoy. The ISL certainly has a task on its hand.

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