More than just cricket?

The Business India Forum, held at Christies’ in London on July 22nd 2010, and partnered by SportBusiness Group, has confirmed a line-up of speakers including Ishan Saksena (Chairman of QPR football club), Arunava Chaudhuri (CEO, IndianFootball.com), Patricia Hewitt (CEO, UK India Business Council) and Tushar Das Ghose (Strategic partner consultant at Microsof).

India’s enormous economic strides have made global headlines and some of the new sectors that will continue this growth are sports, lifestyle and luxury. High profile speakers from these industries will outline the current situation in these sectors and highlight the significant opportunities for both Indian and UK companies.

Other confirmed speakers include Amin Jaffer (Director, Indian Art, Christie’s), Fiona Sanderson (Managing Director, the Luxury Channel), Arunava Chaudhuri ( CEO, IndianFootball.com), Ridhika Batra (UK Director, FICCI), Ashis Ray (Journalist and author), Farid Haque (Global Markets, Accenture), Sangeeta Datta (Film Producer) and Vijay Goel (Partner, Singhania).

To celebrate this event, Wasim Haq, CEO of Media Star Global, assesses the prospects for a thriving Indian soccer scene.

Never before has there been a more concrete sign that the AFC wants to see Indian football develop to its true potential. AFC President, Mohammed Bin Hammam, has set up an ad-hoc committee to oversee an aggressive development of football in a country of more than a billion people where cricket still claims to be a religion.

An achievable project or a pipe-dream?

To many Indians, football is not just a game played by westerners in foreign lands and beamed into their homes by satellite. Indians are quick to point out that the third oldest football club competition in the world is an Indian event. The Durand Cup, first competed for in 1888, brings together the finest local teams in a knockout competition, much like the English FA Cup. Sadly  for Indian club football, the standard of play has failed to live up to these historically important traditions.

The current Indian Football League was overhauled for the 2007/08 season and has become known as the ‘I-League’. The same teams are competing in a slightly different format with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) trying to generate more interest in the new set-up, but without much success. The quality of football is still poor and the lack of commercial interest from local investors combined with low-grade facilities and stadia, means that the AFC has its work cut out if they want to see improvements in overall standards.

That said, it seems football in India is all set to change. And, ironically, it is at the altar of cricket that the catalyst for football change in India has been lit. The massively successful Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket has become the business model for anyone in India trying to create more interest in Indian football. On the basis that the IPL now has a franchise value of $4.3bn, industrial conglomerates, Bollywood megastars and foreign sporting franchises are all trying to second guess the next big cash cow in Indian sport.

With the IPL 2010 just finished and the FIFA World Cup upon us, everyone is jostling for position to be there when Indian Football is suddenly the next big thing. Currently rumours around a new IPL-style football tournament to be played under a similar team-franchise model backed by Bollywood’s finest are flooding the Indian sports marketplace. In fact, so vigorous is current football business activity, that my company Media Star Global is currently involved in various projects centred around deals for European Stadium naming rights, sponsorship deals and businesses seeking to invest in English Premier League Clubs – with all funds being raised in India.

With a middle-class population of over 300 million wanting to spend their hard-earned cash on replica merchandise and live sports events, these local sporting entrepreneurs are ready to cash in.

The target audience is specifically a population made up of family members that belong to middle- and upper-class families. These are people that can afford to subscribe to ESPN, are hooked on international sport and are intent on spending their disposable income on international consumer goods brands and international travel.

This is a population that isn’t yet mature enough to be saturated with loyalty programmes and points-based rewards systems, but is hungry for them. This is a target market that is still very much accessible to successful international brands that are still trying to build loyalty and offer choice in new markets. This target market is brimming with people that want to be football fans. The chattering classes can be heard: “Cricket is for the fathers, Football is for the sons.”

Maybe the AFC’s ad-hoc committee for the development of Indian football isn’t dreaming after all.

Article originally featured in SoccerEx Business magazine, July 2010.

To book your place or for more information on this event – www.celebrasian.co.uk/business-india-forum.php 

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