“Giving sports broadcast rights to a 100% digital operator is an unstoppable trend”
Sports viewership has been increasing in India. As cricket is still the most followed sport in the country, several other international sports have been on the rise when it comes to viewership and popularity. After the introduction of Indian Soccer League (ISL), which allowed several international players and coaches to be a part of the Indian football journey, the viewership and popularity of the sport has increased tremendously.
International football events like the FIFA World Cup usually garner mass viewership. FIFA World Cup 2018 had recorded a total reach of 110 million in India. Apart from this, the English Premier League and La Liga have been the two top leagues that have a huge following in India. The English Premier League has engaged with Indian audiences in recent times through match screenings and also several Indian celebrities like Ranveer Singh and Dhoni promoting the League in India. Also, official club screenings by Arsenal FC and others have favoured the promotion of the League itself.
La Liga now looks to follow these footsteps and leverage its already existing popularity in India. La Liga currently has a digital fan base of 4 million in India. 2019 saw La Liga announce cricketer Rohit Sharma as their first brand ambassador in India. Other initiatives include La Liga schools associated with clubs like Sevilla FC, Celta Vigo and Real Betis. They also have an official broadcast partnership with Facebook to showcase live matches for free for the Indian fans. La Liga also looks to increase its fan base through public viewings and digital engagements. Finally, clubs like Girona FC have played friendlies with ISL clubs like Kerala Blasters.
Talking about his views on football in India, Jose Antonio Cachaza, Managing Director, LaLiga India, said, “I had to be conscious of the situation more than having a view to know what is in there. The viewership of football is growing, but we have a dominating sport that is and will be cricket. In addition, the reaches I see depend on what statistics you use or your raise is to 80-90 per cent of the life is sports audience. The second sport in India is already all football put together, and that, I think, tells you a powerful story. You know that the fans are looking at football. Our job is to keep helping football grow in India and specifically to have fans looking at La Liga as their main favourite international competition.”
Talking about the La Liga initiatives, he said, “Our main job here is to promote our League, our clubs and our compensation, that is our job, but by doing so I think we can help grow football in general, so basically all that we do goes in that direction. Digital has a central point in our strategy and everything else that goes in that direction, for example, we just closed an agreement with Dream11 for launching La Liga Official Fantasy in India, besides signing on Rohit Sharma as a brand ambassador. More funds will be pumped into the sport through which we will expose football to new fans.”
While La Liga has already been carrying out initiatives with clubs like Sevilla FC and Celta Vigo, fans will be awaiting initiatives with bigger clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. On this, Cachaza added, “While we do have huge clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona, we need to use the awareness of the big ones to bring a smaller club set to the spotlight; the Laliga schools are a step in that direction. However, this process will take time and will not happen overnight.”
Even as love for football grows in India, there continue to be geographical pockets where football is far more popular than cricket. Talking about the key markets in India, Cachaza said, “It is true that you have the traditional football regions like Kolkata, the North East, Goa and Kerala. But when we look closely where football is really growing right now by creating new followers, it is in the biggest metro areas. So, today we need to look at these two spaces – traditional regions and other metros will be important for us.”
Further talking about the broadcast partnerships, Cachaza mentioned, “Collaborating with Facebook has been an important decision for us. It is really important in our worldwide strategy, because what it means is that it is a really groundbreaking approach just to give all your broadcast rights to a 100 per cent digital operator. But you know that this is a trend that’s unstoppable.”
La Liga also looks to spread excitement regarding the Spanish League via medium scale screenings across the country. However, as the timings of the kick-offs are often at an odd time when it comes to India, it will be a great challenge to gain viewership for these matches.
With English Premier League and La Liga looking at India as a huge market for football, this will definitely help the sport grow in India, allow various brands and broadcasting partnerships and further grow the spirit of football in the country which has mainly been dominated by cricket for far too long.