Friday, May 24, 2013

Cashing in on the Indian Football Fever

Football has become a business- that is apparent enough from the way different consortia and billionaires have been taking over the ownership of different football clubs around the world. And with the rapid growth in the popularity of the top European leagues around the world, especially in Asia, the clubs have discovered a stable and growing source of revenues.

With increases in expenditure, due to the massively inflated wages the top clubs have to pay to the top players, and increasingly stifling tax rules, it is imperative that they find ways to increase their revenues. Some of them do it through highly skewed TV rights deals, while others look at untapped markets like Asia. Previously, it used to be a pre-season tour to ensure shirt sales to boost the coffers. Now it has come a full circle, and clubs have been entering these markets through various partnerships.

Even Manchester United opened up their football school at the Cooperage in Mumbai. It is an opportunity for clubs to tap into the appalling standard of facilities available in India (refer to this excellent article by Tamojit)- there are hardly any football academies of international standards. A trainee has to cough up Rs. 12,600 ($225; £150) for a course of 10 sessions. The high fee prices out working-class children; so not surprisingly, most trainees are urban middle- or upper-middle-class boys and girls. But no one is complaining, as the demand for quality training is high in the city.

The clubs have realized that there is a sizable chunk of the cricket-mad youth that actually follows European football regularly, with the English Premier League being the most popular due to favorable timings of the games. And they have started to tap into this popularity and craze.

Manchester United was the first to recognize this opportunity and they opened up Manchester United Café Bars across various locations in the metros. They moved beyond the usual shirt sales and provided a platform for the fans to meet and cheer their favorite teams. On a big match day, the footfall in the cafes is around 300 to 350, and the average turnover for each cafe is Rs. 4 lakh to Rs 5 lakh. And this is just the beginning. According to Technopak Advisors, the size of the sportswear market in India is around Rs. 1,300 crore ($240 million), and it is growing at 15 per cent year-on-year. With the presence of the Nike and Adidas stores across the country, it has been easy for the fans to get their hands on their favourite team's jersey. And the sales are only likely to grow. This has prompted the clubs to tie-up with various apparel manufacturers in India to ensure that their entire range of Lifestyle products is available to the fans who are willing to shell out just to put on a piece of clothing branded with the logo of their favourite club.

Foreign clubs are also setting up official football academies in India to nurture talent and recruit for European leagues. Kolkata kicked off the trend, with a Real Madrid Social and Sports Academy, Real Madrid's first in Asia. The Carnoustie Group has signed a deal with Liverpool Football Club to start an academy and plans are in place to open cafes and lounges after the academy is set up. Barcelona had tied up with Conscient Football, a Gurgaon-based firm to organize football camps in places like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Jaipur, Pune, Chandigarh and Vadodara. Conscient Football is also setting up an FC Barcelona academy in Delhi.

The representatives from the clubs aren’t here to impart training for just a few days; they are here for the long run. Meanwhile we as fans are eager to get associated with the clubs that we have come to love, and it is this love that the clubs are looking forward to convert into revenue. And by the looks of it, we will have more chances to help the clubs fill their coffers.