Football's popularity is growing in India by leaps and bounds. A recent study by Velocity MR observed that post-Fifa World Cup, Indian football fandom received a great boost and 84% of respondents claimed that they will support the Indian team in their upcoming matches. Notably, most of the respondents were highly appreciative of India's winning streak in the recent international matches.
To exploit this opportunity, Spanish football league LaLiga has established itself in India. The Drum spoke with Jose Cachaza, head of LaLiga India to find out the the importance of the Indian market to brands as fandom accelerates.
He says: "India is one of our international strategic markets and we understand that interest of business in India is more as a future market than a present market. Nobody can overlook the fastest economy in the world, along with the fact that football is growing rapidly in the Indian market. Cricket is a religion in India, but football does come second."
As to what steps are being taken by the organisation to further boost football's popularity in India, he highlights the importance of a direct relationship with people.
"We are following a 360 strategy and for us digital strategy is fundamental because it allows us to connect directly to the fans. We are taking lot of attention to it as it shows that two years ago we had just 300,000 followers on social media and right now we have above 3.3 million, so that’s 3.3 million fans with whom we have direct relationship and they get information of us and also we get feedback from them."
LaLiga also announced a three-year broadcast partnership with Facebook for the Indian subcontinent as part of which FB will show all 380 matches live and free. Select LaLiga matches will also be telecast on the sports channels of Sony Pictures Networks India. According to Jose, since LaLiga wants to be frontrunner in the new digital world so teaming up with Facebook for broadcast makes perfect sense.
"The important thing in this digital connection with fans is the new broadcast agreement with Facebook, in which all the LaLiga matches can be watched for free on Facebook. So this is step forward on these, and we are a little bit ahead of the group on what’s coming in the new ways of watching professional sports.
"We are organising the next live screening of El Clasico on Sunday 28th October at East Bengal Maidan in Kolkata, after seeing the success the past two years in Mumbai and New Delhi where we had over 20,000 fans come to watch the best match and the best footwork on Earth. We are expecting a huge turnout in Kolkata now as we are going for the first time to the modern land of Indian football."
La Liga recently recently launched its comprehensive grassroots football development programme in India, LaLiga Football Schools, in partnership with India On Track (IOT). The purpose behind the launch, Jose explains: "We are starting with 33 schools in more than 10 cities with 4,000 kids who will learn LaLiga’s way of football in school led by Spanish teachers. The coaches are Indians but the Directors are Spanish trained coaches so we will leave a legacy. We are not only bringing out football to children but also to Indian coaches who will be trained in the LaLiga methods. This relationship with the fans is very important to us.
"We bring our legends to India to interact with the media and fans here. In these past 2-3 years, we had Fernando Morientes, Luis Garcia, Gianluca Zambrotta, Gaizka Mendieta and now we have Robert Pires here. Steve McManaman is coming to watch the El Clasico with Indian fans."
India already has its own football league ISL. Whether, with initiatives like LaLiga Football Schools, there is a right grassroots support system for the sport to grow here, Jose says: "LaLiga Football Schools is not a High Performance Project; we are not doing scouting and only training the best here. It’s about bringing the experience and joy of playing football to as many kids as possible.
"There are many other projects like the Reliance Foundation which are truly high performance academies that do scouting all over India. We do cooperate with them, like we took their kids to visit Spain last year and they played against several LaLiga grassroots and junior teams. We might do something similar this year as well. But it’s not our objective here to search for high performance talent."
LaLiga is further working with its global sponsors that have a presence in India, like Nike, EA Sports, Tag Heuer and Mahou, the Spanish beer. LaLiga also brought Girona FC to Kochi in July to compete. If there is a plan to go beyond the Indian subcontinent, Jose says: "We’ve started our work in the region quite recently, it’s been just two years. We’re increasing our outreach to markets, like going to Kolkata which is the modern heartland of football in India now. If we had to put figures of reach, we have more than two million social media followers in Bangladesh, so we know we need to do something for them.
"A market like Nepal, we know people love football there. In the Indian subcontinent, cricket rules but you’ll find a wonderful country like Nepal where football rules. We are thinking about these markets, but no concrete plans yet."
While many brands are looking to fast-growth markets like India, at least the big football brands, such as LaLiga can invest knowing they have a healthy direct relationship with fans from the get-go.