Rohan Sharma, the young and vivacious owner of Odisha FC, started his career in GMS Leadership, which is the world's largest cash buyer of ships and offshore assets for recycling.
In 2015, GMS purchased a 55% stake in Delhi Dynamos before acquiring full ownership. In 2016, he became the director of Delhi Dynamos F.C. in their most successful season, where they finished as high as third in the table.
Impressed by the sporting scene in Odisha, the management decided to relocate the franchise to Odisha, where he now serves as the president.
Sportskeeda recently spoke with Rohan Sharma about COVID-19 challenges in football, playing in Goa and his recent partnerships.
Q: What has been the impact of COVID-19 on Odisha FC? How do you plan to tackle the challenges?
Rohan Sharma: All the clubs have been affected by COVID-19. It has been difficult for us because we moved from Delhi to Odisha quite quickly last year, which didn’t give us much time to sync our team to Odisha.
This summer was important for us in terms of interacting for our grassroots programs in Odisha for both boys and girls but we missed out on it. We wanted to go around every district in Odisha to spread the brand, spread the awareness and engage everyone in football but COVID-19 has hampered things dramatically. You don’t want kids to get sick, you don’t want parents to be worried and you can’t travel because of the ban which is all quite sad as we have seen hunger from fans who want to see more Odia players in the squad, and this would have been the time to do it.
We will have more guidance as everyone adjusts with the ‘new norm’. The league has already started planning for this, and I think what we would do is take a page out of the league’s book and figure out how we can use the same methods to protect us, teams and other players.
Luckily, Odisha isn’t hit as hard as the other states in India, and kudos to the government for acting fast to contain the situation. Also, we need to remember that we don’t want anyone to be sick on our watch, and we will have to take the hard decision whether we still want to do any grassroots activation because with the way this pandemic is shaping up, we don’t want to put kids at risk.
Q: Are you happy with the decision to have ISL in Goa amidst rising cases? What are the precautionary measures planned?
Rohan Sharma: We are quite happy that the league is going to happen this year because we don’t want to lose having ISL gone for a whole year. The cases in Goa are rising, and it is a cause of nervousness for everyone in the team.
Our first priority is to ensure the safety of coaching staff and players. We don’t want them to come to Goa and for something to happen to them on our watch. Therefore, it is very important that we have the right precautions in place as we don’t want things to get worse. Good thing is that hotels are also being strict about what they are doing, what their requirements are and are creating a ‘secure bubble’.
The way India is doing as a country in terms of cases, I don’t think it is going to get better any time soon. The biggest worry of mine is from the airport to the hotel. I think once everyone is in quarantine and comes out of it, things are going to be fine.
We have all these test requirements, all these officers coming in to help us out, the hotels are given strict regulations of what they can and can’t do. I think the plan is good but things like Indian players should test thrice doesn’t make sense to some degree. I do understand they are trying to be cautious but we don’t want to take away tests from people who really might need it more than us.
Q: What is the current marketing/branding strategy of the club?
Rohan Sharma: We are in a very unique position and one thing I like about being part of Odisha FC is that we have a very strong local connection. We wanted to make the club part of Odisha’s culture. Our social media team has done a good job of creating content in English and the local language- Odia- so people can relate to us on a certain level. Through our social media, we try to market towards Odia people and we are trying to be as local as possible.
But I am also trying to look at an international perspective and that’s why we have recently partnered with Halfspace Agency which is based out of the UK. I think we need to attract and capture the interest of NRIs living abroad as the Indian diaspora is quite big.
We have NRI’s living in every part of the world who are interested in the ISL. They are quite curious about watching Indian football. Look at how EPL and LaLiga have attracted so many people in India through various outreach programs, and it's not like we have Indians playing in either of those leagues. We can do something similar.
Q: Tell us about your latest partnerships.
Rohan Sharma: We have T10 as our kit partner which we are really happy about. They are a great brand. We are still working on some of the new partnerships and we will see some good partners coming on board with us as there is a lot of interest in the club.
We are trying to position the club as a more dynamic, youth-oriented, progressive club. We already have Serajuddin as our principal partner for which we are extremely grateful. We have partnered HalfSpace to market international brands. In this COVID-era sponsorships are a bit hard to find.
However, there are industries which are growing in this era. What I want to do with HalfSpace is to find those companies and see how I can parlay Odisha FC as a club/brand to make them enter into the Indian market and Odisha and the club. For eg. brands related to men’s grooming.
We have a very young and attractive squad who are all fit. I told HalfSpace that I want to be a combination of Ajax and PSG. I want to have the dominance of Ajax but I also want the brand of PSG. They [PSG] have such great clothing lines, sneaking lines, and everyone is wearing PSG stuff.
I want my players to be swaggy off the pitch, have the coolest jerseys and this is what I want the end game to be for Odisha FC. If you are like a real football fan in India, you would come to an OFC game because it is so much fun. It is like an event in itself. I hope the corporates can see the potential and vision of what we are trying to do.Published 23 Sep 2020, 13:12 IST