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Money Talks! Changing a Global Federation’s mindset

Arup Soans
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Feature
805   //    Timeless

We (India 2017 Local Organising Committee) had other plans and never treated this tournament as a junior World Cup but looked at it as the single largest game changer in Indian sports
We (India 2017 Local Organising Committee) had other plans and never treated this tournament as a junior World Cup but looked at it as the single largest game changer in Indian sports

A six-part on-demand series of excerpts from - India playing host to the most attended FIFA Youth World Cup in history.

“1.5 Million Dollars!?” followed by chuckles in the background. The FIFA executive clears her throat and speaks softer and clearer into the telephone, “So you are saying that you will sell the national supporter package for the U-17 World Cup at 1.5 million dollars per spot?” Our project director and I replied in unison, “For the fifth time (not out aloud), Yes!”

This conversation sparked a chain of events that saw a paradigm shift in thinking towards India and Indian football at all levels of the international governing body of football.

To put things in perspective, the previous edition of the tournament hosted by Chile raised only 1.2 million dollars along with some barter deals across all the national supporters that came on board.

We (India 2017 Local Organising Committee) had other plans and never treated this tournament as a junior World Cup but looked at it as the single largest game changer in Indian sports and possibly one to change the football landscape globally.

If we could convince FIFA of the same, why wouldn’t we be able to convince any brand or sponsor to come along for the ride?

Convincing FIFA, of course, wasn’t that easy. Any global body or brand for that matter is much like a very large cargo ship headed towards a destination pre-decided by the captain. Any stops or detours or deviations have to be put into the planning process much prior to the action actually being executed.

We knew that if we were to stick to our guns and actually hold good for the expertise and experience we put on the table, we would need to make this ship make some sudden turns and the only way to do it is to go straight to the captain.

In the 30 plus year history of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, there has only been one edition that has had LED advertising boards and that is India 2017.

For an outsider, it may seem as simple as setting up LED boards instead of static ones but from the inside of a large organisation, it means new tenders, new contracts, new operational plans, new creatives, new staff and more importantly new budgets.

Any international body like FIFA never wants to be out of their comfort zone, on many occasions India 2017 gave them exactly that.

The FIFA President was looped in straight away and told by the LOC Chairman that India has seen LED boards in sporting events for almost a decade and that there will be a guaranteed income of 3 million dollars from two national supporters to start with if not more should India 2017 have LED advertising boards for this junior World Cup.

A promise put in writing long before we actually closed any deals. Intentionally setting precedent is always avoided or met with resistance when it comes to FIFA, but this time, four months after that phone conversation, we received the nod straight from the top.

Well, money talks, doesn’t it? There was still lots of work to be done after that, at FIFA’s end as well as ours, but this gave us a sense of hope and the feeling that this time is going to be different.

Changing the perception of a group of people who were working out of a bubble called Switzerland never seemed more important than now. Fast forward to kick-off on 6th October 2017, our tournament had filled all six national supporter spots and raised money enough to chuckle on the other end of the telephone.

Though to give credit where it’s due, from a sponsorship point of view, never has any Indian brand gotten the global exposure it did during the tournament.

The implementation of something so basic (LED advertising boards) that seemed like hygiene for us was the first of many deviations where the captain himself had to take a call and steer his ship in what we knew to be the right direction for football and sport as a whole.

There is always another side to a story and another side to a coin, this one being that brands in India knew nothing of the static board past and always assumed they would get LED board exposure. So moving the needle of a global federation was never enough for us to hold good on our word - we needed to think out of the box.

How will a brand recognize the value of this first-ever FIFA World Cup being hosted on home soil and will they be willing to cough up the sum we have so gallantly promised the tournament owners?

Enter – Mission Eleven Million! A program envisioned by us and on paper seemed quite crazy (for lack of a better word) but raised eyebrows and popped eyeballs every time we mentioned it in our presentations to potential partners.

I will get into more detail of the program and its execution in the next part of this series but to put things in perspective again, a program in conjunction with any FIFA tournament makes the program a FIFA owned one.

What does that mean? It will have to run by FIFA’s rules, with FIFA’s branding, with FIFA’s approval (on everything), with only FIFA sponsors and it goes on.

Anyone working in grassroots in India will know that unless you have a free hand to do as you please, in a structured manner of course, only then will you see the real impact.

That’s what we started off this journey with, knowing that if this World Cup was done right and I mean right by the host country (India in this case), we would see the impact for years to come.

FIFA World Cup Arup Soans
FIFA World Cup Winner's Trophy (the same one all over Pogba's Instagram stories) on display in New Delhi on the same date in 2016 that the first ever World Cup match was played

Not only in the way of popularising football but in the way of engaging every single local stakeholder (Central and State Governments, Sports Authority, Football Federation & State Associations, Professional Teams, Central and State Education Departments, Schools, Teachers, Parents and Students) in the system and making them understand as well as giving them the tools to give sport its due credit in a competitive education culture.

Going back to that phone call, “So, if you actually think this is possible, we (FIFA) might even be able to support you with sales events and possibly bring the FIFA World Cup Winner’s trophy to India as an incentive.” We held up our end of the bargain. So did FIFA.

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Arup Soans
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Apart from being a Sports Business Consultant to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and All India Football Federation (AIFF), Arup was the Local Organising Committee of the FIFA Under 17 World Cup India 2017 Head of Marketing, managing a team of 45 people. The committee was responsible for hosting and staging the tournament across six cities in India. The 17th edition of the tournament ended up being the highest ever attended FIFA youth competition. Armed with twelve plus years of professional experience, Arup is an expert in business strategy, sports marketing and new media. He has worked at New York based Major League Soccer and Perform Sports Media. Arup was part of the Organising Committee for the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, India. He was also part of senior management teams at organisations operating in the IT, retail and marine industries. Arup is the first Indian to hold a master’s degree in sports business from New York University.
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