How & Why the U-17 W Cup can transform India’s sports landscape

12 Oct,2017


By Mahesh Ranka


Indian football is at its Inflection point, waiting to explode, with the never-before focus and extensive media coverage of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Never has India seen such high decibel, and mostly unpaid, coverage of a sporting event, probably outside a cricket event.


The first ever truly world event is underway in India, the FIFA U-17 World Cup. And yes, the World’s watching. With 23 of the top teams in the world and the hosts competing to win the coveted title, this edition of the championship has more going for India, Indian Football and Indian Sports than any other sporting event hosted by India.


A week into the FIFA U- 17 World Cup, India and it seems like Football (and the Indian team) is already a part of many a conversation. When you see Prime MinisterNarendra Modi, leading the Government of India support, The legend Amitabh Bachchan on the top-rated Kaun Banega Crorepati, and atleast one or two pages of coverage in leading dailies or definite part in the sports bulletins across channels, amongst many others supporting and urging India to follow football and support the event and team India, there’s only one way the event popularity is bound to travel.


India – World’s New Playground!

With India seemingly putting up a fantastic world event of the FIFA family, the country can put up claim and bid to host many more world sporting events. This bodes well for sports in general for India. Needless to say that with immaculate planning, the local economy gains in the short term and long term by hosting these events. Hosting of events has become a significant tool for combined Sporting and economic development across the world, and India must be on this bandwagon sooner than later.

Thanks to FIFA, the digital following and information dissipation across over 10 million twitter followers alone, in addition to the local media coverage in at least 23 countries that are participating.

This however is a long-term thought. Let’s see what we have in store in the near term. Football will grow, so will the following, the training and development and the infrastructure. Yes, this will all converge well for the corporate and sponsor support that becomes imperative these days for the growth, popularity and riches in the sports field.


Focus on Football

With the focus on football growing, government will actively look towards improving the infrastructure and support for benefit and development of the sport. With the current Sports Minister actually being a sportsperson, it’s likely that more action will happen on ground than being restricted to paper.

The U-17 team of India and its performance clearly shows the potential Indian football has, and this will be heartening to the officials of the AIFF, who would want to have a programme to nurture and hone the skills of the current lot of youngsters, event as the senior team performance will be focus of improvement. This can only be done in form of a solid and scientific development programme set in a process that is replicable across the country.  We surely will have heroes more than that can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and that will help the following of the sport and potentially have footballing icons that will propel large scale support.

Perception of football is likely to change, or the process started with Football be seen as a career option (mostly by parents of interested children), even as Indian Super League, I-league : in its new avatar will be present and be spoken about for five to eight months of a year, clearly showcasing a possible opportunity for potential players.

We see some international clubs and development programs already in the country for some time and post the U-17 World Cup, more such providers will want to make India their home for new talent and business. It’s very clear that there is a massive gap in the current football in India (senior) and world over, and the only way for India is to close the gap rapidly, even leapfrog some aspects, as it’s done in many other fields.


India the New market

In many ways, the FIFA U-17 World Cup is like a test launch for FIFA’s ambition to spread football fever far and wide in India. There is clearly scope for at least 3 more sports (other than cricket) to have significant standing in India. FIFA would want to have Indian businesses spreading their wings globally be a part of the FIFA sponsorship programme, to widen the sponsorship and broadcast reach as well as create more competition for better pricing. E.g. Hero MotoCorp, with significant business interests in Football crazy markets, would be an ideal brand for FIFA to associate with in the current form.

ISL and I-league import players and also have potential to export players to other markets, however larger football business in India will mean better financials and this may lead to many BIG names being a part of Indian football clubs.


The Business of Football

With the focus of the international community and India, firmly on Indian football, coupled with growth potential, it’s only natural that the final piece of the puzzle sets in. It usually becomes the most important part for inorganic and significant growth. Revenue.

Broadcast, gate collection, licensing and merchandising and sponsorships are the key revenue earners for any sport. And one of the key pillars of the success of any sport is the volume of revenue generated through various avenues.


Possible Rub-off Effect on other Sports

Any significant cause brings in many effects, and with the potential of football, other sports would stand to benefit, as more people will be open to sampling different sports (watching/ participating/ competing). The focus of the administrators and government will also be on growing facilities and development plan for other sports. This effect should truly make India a multi-nation sports over the next decade or so.


Mahesh Ranka is a sports management and strategy consultant and an expert on the business of sports.

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