The rise and rise of football in India
A decade ago, if anyone asked you which sport does India play, cricket would be the most obvious answer. Fortunately or unfortunately, that has changed over the past few years. Other sports like badminton, kabaddi and football have cornered a lot of the new sports enthusiasts.
Football, in particular, has been a great winner in this churn. With the inception of the Indian Soccer League (ISL), which adopted the Indian Premier League (IPL) format from cricket, football has found space in the hearts and minds of sports enthusiasts in the country.
Sunil Chhetri has started becoming a name more people know and recognize. A lot of local talent has been promoted in the ISL in particular and the marketing teams have made sure that the viewers remember these names.
The Indian national football team has also put in a lot of good performances during the last few years. It has only added to the hype around the sport and they are already being called the other Boys in Blue!
There are a lot of fantastic foreign players who play in the ISL. The likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Wes Brown, Nicolas Anelka, Marco Materrazi, John Arne Riise are some of the stars who have played for different ISL teams. The growing popularity of football through the ISL has been something that even the international clubs have taken notice. Atletico Madrid were once co-owners of the Kolkata-based franchise.
Football has also received a lot of support from Bollywood. A lot of stars either own stakes in teams or have been very vocal about their support for European teams. Ranbir Kapoor's love for Barcelona and Ranveer Singh's love for Arsenal is well documented.
The English Premier League, arguably, the most followed league in the world has tweaked their match timings to reach the fans in the subcontinent. There have been numerous promotional events by different English Premier League teams in India's big cities. All these events have been very well received and have only fueled the audience's interest.
All these are just outcomes of change that's happening on the ground. Almost every school which earlier had a cricket team now has a football team. The number of football coaching classes and inter-school or inter-district tournaments have gone up exponentially. The sale of football merchandise has been on the rise over the past few years. There has also been a noticeable increase in the number of football pitches around the big cities.
Coverage of football matches and tournaments by the media has increased manifold, particularly, because of the huge demand for information around it. A few years ago, the only time you would see sports journalists write opinion pieces about football was if there was a World Cup coming up. Those also used to be very generic and mostly just used information from foreign articles. Now you can read about all the big matches on a weekly basis.
It is clear that football still has a long way to go before it can match cricket in terms of popularity and revenue generation but there is no doubt that it has caught the imagination of the youth of the country.
With the growing popularity of local and national tournaments and the increasing interest from foreign football clubs to capture the Indian market, it is only a matter of time before football competes with cricket.