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AIFF don't seem to have a strategy to market the game in India

AIFF Press Conference In Delhi

The failure in the AFC Challenge Cup narrates to us a never-ending tale of woes for Indian football. From Rob Baan to the youth development coaches, everybody is groping in the dark. Nobody, including the All India Football Federation (AIFF), has any clue how to rejuvenate the sport in India. Recently, even the AIFF President Praful Patel evinced his interest in including two new I-League clubs, who will be backed by corporates. Patel feels the decision will help raise the standard of the I-League significantly because the corporate-backed teams will invest heavily in infrastructure and thereby the game will be taken care of.

But I’m not so convinced, because the I-League already has a couple of top corporate-backed teams like Dempo, Salgaocar and ONGC among others who will never invest in football infrastructure.

While Patel acknowledged that infrastructure is also one of the main issues which has hit the game, the Federation officials over the years have only baffled us. Some four years ago, it was rumoured that AIFF bought land near Dwarka where they were planning to raise an exclusive football venue, but nothing has come out of that so far.

The recent decision to shift six I-League matches from Salt Lake Stadium to other venues due to the IPL opening ceremony is definitely not a good advertisement for the game.

Meanwhile, IMG’s presence has done little to raise the profile of the game. That’s been one of the grey areas as far as the game’s marketing is concerned in India. We need marketing gurus who can market the Indian game.

After having watched various Indian teams, first as a young follower in Calcutta (from 1981 to 1993) and then as a writer from 1994 till date and then as someone who has travelled throughout the country, I also seem to lose hope in our game. We don’t have a system which supports football.

We all understand that football in India is a big money-spinner. Even Patel said so in his recent meeting with the top corporate houses. But the AIFF president forgot one important aspect. He didn’t mention the ROIs. Why should the major corporates houses invest money in a game which has few takers?

From 2007 to 2012, Indian football has had some of its most memorable victories ever. Nehru Cup wins could have helped the Indian federation take the game to the next level. Remember Subrata Paul’s sequence of penalty saves in the 2009 final which appeared as leading news in all the national media? But due to the absence of a strong marketing team, the parent body completely failed to create a brand around these victories.

In fact, the broadcasting of images of the triumphant Indian teams taking a victory lap with the tri-colour in the packed Ambedkar Stadium was a great opportunity which the Federation could have simply lapped up, and then handed over the reins to an experienced marketing team. That didn’t happen and as a result we are back to square one.

As I said, football is a market-oriented game. TV, sponsors, spectators and media houses are those important stake-holders who need to be involved in a better way. Poor media coverage has created a wide gap between the I-League and clubs. Barring the Mohun Bagan-East Bengal derby and Shillong Lajong and Sikkim United’s matches in their home grounds, most other I-League fixtures draw a handful of spectators. ONGC, who play their home matches at Delhi’s Ambedkar Stadium, always have to endure the ‘pain and frustration’ of playing in front of empty stands. Still, it seems the AIFF don’t have a definite plan and strategy to market the game.

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