By Tony Attwood
If you have not read the excellent article about supporting Arsenal from a distance, I would urge you to read it now, before moving on to this, my epilogue to that story.
I was first told that Arsenal were going to target India as a market about five years ago, but at the time I was asked to lay off repeating the story for a while – which is what I have done.
Since then we have heard that Arsenal are setting up 75 training schools in India, working with partners that can help set up the schools in all the major centres.
The partnership involves Arsenal providing training and expertise for coaches who will in turn train interested children in the game. Arsenal players will also be brought to India during the summer to participate in matches with local teams.
So the project is far enough advanced for it to be an open discussion. Indeed even Sepp Blatter seems to realise the potential – he described India as “a sleeping giant of world football.” If Blatter knows it, then its an open story.
Certainly the involvement of Robert Pires and Freddie Ljunberg in the Indian Super League was more than coincidence – even if Robert did manage to get himself sent off.
The Super League involved eight teams, and was a highly successful attempt to continue to promote football as a sport that India should be engaged in. That the teams incorporated European stars who were past their prime was undoubtedly true, but still, it brought European football to India – and everything starts somewhere.
As I understand it, the Indian Super League involves Star India *(the satellite channel owned by Murdoch), IMG and Reliance. As such it is getting a kick start in a way that was similar to the boost that Sky (owned by Murdoch) gave the Premier League a push back in the days of analogue TV.
For the league season Robert Pires was joined by Alessandro Del Piero, Luis Garcia, Nic Anelka, Freddie Ljungberg, Alessandro Nesta and others of that ilk. Mumbai City was managed by a very wrinkled looking Peter Reid. David James was also there as a manager
The result of the tournament, from what I saw, was much more than the kick around by oldies out to make yet more cash as some predicted… certainly the skills were comparable with League One or the Championship, and the crowds averaged 25,000, which is the highest of any Asian domestic league (although of course the season was short).
But most of all the fact is that Atletico de Kolkata v Mumbai FC, got a TV audience of 74.7 million, by far the highest for any match in India. Atletico de Kolkata are part owned by Atletico Madrid, and they are building an academy in Kolkata. Chennaiyin FC are owned in part by Internazionale who are building an academy. Marco Materazzi managed one of the ISL teams this season.
And here’s a stat that I find amazing – and really puts everything in perspective: the first week of the Indian Super League was watched by a total audience of 170 million. The first week of the Brazil World Cup got an audience of 87.6 million.
Shall I run that again: the ISL league of ex-players got double the TV audience in week one of the World Cup.
Our Robert playing for Goa FC
And where football is, so are the marketing teams – and they are the guys doing the talking. They talk of support in India for Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Manchester City and Tottenham H are not figuring – from what I am told, but maybe they have additional plans – after all Man C’s owners can buy as many clubs as they want at the drop of a oil rig.
As our report from Arsenal 13 revealed, the top Premier League games from England are broadcast live in India, and reaches an annual audience of over 150 million.
All top-level English games are televised live in India and each week around two million people in the country engage with the Premier League on social media. According to one Indian TV industry report, last year England’s top football competition reached 155 million viewers.
The worldwide TV audience for Premier League games is 4.7bn across over 650 million homes via what is known as the Premier League Content Service. This provides international broadcasters with round the clock programming of live matches, live studio analysis (yawn yawn for the most part), news, archive and recorded programming across the various time zones. So India is a huge bit of this market.
Here is another factoid. The World Bank did a survey (I am not sure why, but they did) which says that 42 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion adult population say they are football fans. The pay-TV audience in the country is around 600 million.
However, the one thing we utterly don’t want India to learn from England is what to do about grass roots football. Ours is falling apart, the FA are making excuses and putting forward grand schemes without funding, and matters are getting worse day by day (see my many previous articles on the subject for details). But India on Track promises a lot – and Arsenal are part of that.
I do hope that Arsenal 13 who contributed the previous article (or indeed any other Untold readers in India) can a) correct the misunderstandings I have about football in India at the moment – after all I am writing this in England, not India, and b) update us on any moves they see by Arsenal to become part of the Indian football scene. If you want to know about Arsenal’s involvement in India thus far it is here.
As for the Arsenal match in India – well, let’s wait and see. The story is that this summer Arsenal will play FC Goa (where Robert played) and Mumbai City (where Freddie played).
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