After days of fortunate and not so fortunate speculation about LFC in Asia and Asians in LFC, finally FSG announced the summer tour of Asia. Some of my previous posts were inspired by the fact that LFC was missing out on Asian (specifically Indian) markets and this should do well to answer some of those. Congratulations to the Reds in Malaysia, South Korea and China.
May be I am a nationalist, and may be my reasoning is blurred because of that, but, one notable exception from the list is India. Does it have to do with India’s football ranking? I wouldn’t think so since these tours are marketing exercises rather than scouting missions. Interest in football? Surely there’s enough interest in football, may be a small percentage of population but a small percentage of a 1.2 billion population is bigger than some countries. Economy/ Opportunity? With India spreading in tennis, F1, shooting and other sports and being colossal in cricket, I don’t think that should be a reason. Then Why? May be next year or year after next. Well, that’s just passing the opportunity to the rival clubs.
Since Summer tours are about marketing and developing fan bases, I would concentrate only on the financial aspects of the opportunity that is being missed.
The biggest sport in the country of course is Cricket. Not just that, India is the biggest country (in terms of money) for Cricket. So much so, that apparently 70% (as read everywhere) of the revenue for the game is generated in India. A majority of the principal sponsors of the global events are Indian. Club level cricket is facing a boom time because India took to club cricket a little less than 4 years ago. Sometimes, even teams of foreign clubs advertise Indian sponsors in some competitions. IPL (Indian Premier League), a competition for 8-10 clubs in India pays cricketers more per game than most footballers in English or Spanish leagues get (Kevin Pietersen would have made $1.5 million had he played 4 weeks of IPL in 2009, about £250,000 per week). Most recently, an IPL franchise was sold for $370 million. A franchise doesn’t get to own players or stadia or facilities or other such things. The $370million only bought the right to participate in the IPL for 10 years or so and to use the BCCI stadia for not more than 10 games. The payroll is upwards of $10 million per season (of 4 weeks).
Unlike earlier times, India also has a huge market and appetite for sports. That has further gone on to be displayed on the field not in terms of performance but atleast in terms of participation. The most expensive (since we’re talking money) sport in the world – F1 – now has an Indian team, an Indian track (starting this October, possibly), an Indian driver and a test driver apart from some backroom people. Even the Asian broadcasting partners for the sport have an Indian flavor to their programming.
Even football has become quite big in India. I personally feel that football is the #2 sport in the country in terms of viewership. All major European leagues – English, Spanish, Italian & German, along with Champions League and Europa League – are telecast on TV here. There are TV slots for Championship, Scottish League and Eredivisie as well. An Indian company now owns a PL club. Another Indian owns a La Liga club. Jaguar – a subsidiary of an Indian automobile manufacturer – has sponsorship tie up with Manchester City Football Club (although they need none), an Indian telecommunications company supports Manchester United. There’s an Indian element in ownership of QPR as well although that’s got very little to do with India. An IT company from India was a second level sponsor of the FIFA World Cup.
Locally speaking, every sport shop in the country has dedicated rows for football replica jerseys. Nike – Man Utd, Arsenal, Barcelona, Brazil; Adidas – Liverpool, Chelsea, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Argentina. The national jerseys of Holland, France, Spain and other nations also spring up during national competitions. Almost every youngster these days has allegiance to a club. And most companies in India as well as some football clubs are trying to ensure that this allegiance benefits them. Networks would vouch for the viewership numbers in the country and believe me, it wouldn’t be a sad picture at all.
What is sad is the amount of recognition that Liverpool Football Club and the partners have given to India. India is the second most profitable market for Standard Chartered Bank with multi-billion dollars of reported profit and all they have done is sponsor a weekly interview column in a national daily and running a competition for a free shirt early on in the seaon. Apart from that, nothing that I have seen! LFC doesn’t one a single recognized fan club in the country. Not one bar or cafe either. Couple that with the fact that we’ve not won anything for the past 3-4 years and that, what is the strategy for going out to a 9 or 10 year old in India and asking him to pick Liverpool Football Club as his preferred club in the world? The fans that the club has in India do everything on their own with not an iota of reciprocation or recognition of this support.
The six biggest cities in India (the metropolitans per se) have a combined population of more than 50 million (double the entire population of Malaysia, not to say anything against Malaysia but putting things in perspective) with youth being in majority. What kind of analyst is required to understand the potential this holds?
While ignoring India hasn’t been smart, what makes it really surprising is that giving away a franchise license for a bar or recognizing an official supporter group doesn’t cost the club a bomb – at most a few thousand dollars per instance which would anyway be recovered by the royalties within weeks. What’s also beyond my understanding is how Standard Chartered affords to ignore India having signed one of the most expensive shirt sponsorship deals in the history.
All major sports and sponsors have used their associations to promote their entities in this country. An actress from India is also the ambassador of ManCity’s principal sponsors Etihad (both Etihad and ManCity have the same family as owners) and did an appearance there and was more than amply visible on the news here. Manchester United has 3 bars in the Greater Delhi area itself. Audi brought Bayern Munich to India a few years back. Adidas has all sorts of banners promoting the Chelsea merchandise. Even Airtel made India’s leading actor claiming that Nani is best footballer in the world in one of the advertisements. What has SC done for Liverpool in India?
The youngsters are not going to wait to pick their choice of clubs. If it’s not Liverpool Football Club, an entire lifetime of revenue from that individual is gone. Multiply that with the number of people swearing allegiance to other clubs on a daily basis, the losses are there to be counted – about 7% of India’s population is urban and under 14 years of age.
I thought, someone at Standard Chartered had been daft in ignoring India. Latest instance of ignorance only confirms it.