The impact of India’s growing sports tourism market on football | Football

Of Qatar’s 1.8 million tickets for the 2022 World Cup sold in the first two phases, more than 23,500 were purchased by fans in India.

After the first ticket sales, India ranked 7th in terms of ticket sales.

In Russia 2018, nearly 18,000 fans from India attended. Of all the non-competitive countries, India has the third highest fan base in Russia, behind only the United States and China.

So what made fans of a country with the 58th women’s team and the 104th men’s team and never attended a World Cup, come to the world’s largest sporting event with a large number of people. so big?

It’s a strange dichotomy best illustrated by the fact that the men’s national team captain Sunil Chhetri had to post a video via the Indian Football Team Twitter urging fans to attend the Asian qualifiers. Team Cup in Kolkata in June this year.

There’s something pitiful in the video, that one of the country’s greatest athletes, a man who ranks third on the list of active international scorers, has to beg. fans come to see his team in the flesh.

While the video had the desired effect and resulted in a sold-out crowd, it reflects the state of Indian football.

In May of this year, it was reported that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) funding had been cut by 85%. Last month, FIFA temporarily banned India for third-party interference.

The men’s team’s poor performance, lack of structure in the women’s game, and inadequate development at the grassroots level were cited as reasons for the budget cuts.

160 million football fans in India

In January of this year, a YouGov survey conducted on behalf of the FC Goa club in the Indian Super League showed that there are 160 million football fans in India. The passion for the sport clearly exists, it’s just a matter of where it goes.

“The issue is how are fans differentiated in India, in terms of what kind of identity they possess,” said Debanjan Banerjee, a researcher on football behavior and culture based in Bangalore. when it comes to football.

“There is a reason why the world misunderstands that India has no football fans because the number of fans who support Indian football is very small compared to the percentage that support European football.”

As one of the core members of Blue Pilgrims – a group of fans who follow the Indian men’s and women’s football teams closely at every match, Banerjee understands very well the attitude and behavior towards the national teams. .

At a time when football has become what Banerjee says is a “global identity for young people”, he believes India’s failure to succeed on the international stage has made it difficult for fans to associate themselves with the team. shadow.

“The reason to support a football club or why people travel to watch football is to express themselves in a way that makes them feel bigger than themselves and also connects them to something. more successful and more active,” he said.

That leads to fans tending to borrow identities.

Banerjee spent the 2018 World Cup in the southern Indian state of Kerala, filming a documentary about the state’s connection to football.

In it, he captured vividly the fervor the tournament ignited in the people and fervent fans for Brazil and Argentina. These countries’ fan groups function like political parties: separate “offices” where supporters gather and watch matches together.

An organizer is said to be erecting figures of players along the streets along with large murals up to 50 feet (15 meters) high.

The rivalry is deepening and these fanbases are constantly trying to outdo each other. In one of the documentary scenes, a fight broke out between the groups at midnight and had to be broken up by the church’s parish.

Love affair with Argentina, Brazil

Rakesh Pai is one of the passionate Argentinian fans from Kerala. Pai, who works at an investment firm in Bangalore, has been rivaled by Albiceleste like most, by Diego Maradona.

His first brush with the World Cup came at the age of 7 in 1990, where his lasting memory was Maradona crying in the final.

Pai didn’t know who he was but his pain resonated with him. A love blossomed out of this heartbreak.

His passion only grew as the years passed and in 2010 he flew to South Africa with his brother to see Argentina in the flesh for the first time.

While the tournament didn’t end well for Argentina, the experience helped keep Pai connected. In 2014, Pai went to Brazil with his wife and brother. He and his brother also learned Spanish to mingle with other Argentine fans. These friendships were rekindled at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Qatar 2022 will be Pai’s fourth World Cup and he talks about getting a lot of calls from friends and acquaintances, asking questions about ticket sales and pricing.

He mentioned that some of these people are not even fervent football supporters. Besides Qatar’s geographical proximity to India, Pai believes the difficulty of obtaining a visa makes it impossible for people to travel to other far-flung countries.

“Visa has never been an issue at any World Cup. There were some communication problems that I had in South Africa and in Brazil, but getting a visa was never a problem,” he said. “But we [Pai and his brother] didn’t know it at the time. Only when we received the visa did we realize “Oh, the process is so simple”. “

The comfort factor of the Middle East cannot be ignored.

Making up about a quarter of the population, there are more than 750,000 Indians in Qatar.

The chances of knowing a friend or relative living in Qatar are high, and in addition to providing accommodation options, they can help buy match tickets. Pai found tickets to the semi-final through a friend who lives in Qatar.

There is a separate category for Qataris only with tickets starting at 40 riyals ($11 or 876 Indian rupees) and they are allowed to have non-residents as guests.

The proximity of the stadiums is also a boon for traveling fans. But this is one of the reasons why longtime football fan and co-founder of legendary Bengaluru FC fan group, West Block Blues, Rakesh Haridas isn’t too keen on attending the 2022 World Cup.

“Qatar 2022 does not excite me. You come to the World Cup to experience such a country. If you look at Russia, one game in Sochi, one game in Moscow… that’s the whole World Cup setup and something that we know,” he said.

However, Haridas understands that it is the players, not the place that pulls fans to Qatar.

“That twilight era of some of football’s biggest stars was a huge addition. One, these are the people you have grown up watching over the last 12 to 15 years. And, watching Messi play in Qatar is much easier than in Paris,” he said.

The cluttered nature of this World Cup is what makes it such an attractive proposition for businesses.

Package ‘The pinnacle of luxury’

Raj Khandwala, CEO of the Mumbai-based tourism and sports management company, talks about the monotony that has crept into the company’s traditional social events like tours and clubs.

“Now they [corporates] want to create an experience for their customers, clients or employees. So they want to show them an F1 race or a Wimbledon match or a World Cup soccer tournament. Something is an experience for them,” said Khandwala.

Cut Edge is the joint exclusive match ticketing agent in India for this year’s World Cup and Khandwala estimates that entertainment ticket sales in India could be in the range of $20 million to $25 million.

Companies account for nearly 75% of Cut Edge’s revenue for the World Cup. The product packages range from “the pinnacle of luxury” to “authentic fan experience” according to their promotional material. Packages include a private dining experience, a six-course meal with a live chef’s counter, champagne selection, extended service, main game viewing and preferential parking, among more.

The cheapest match ticket price offered by Cut Edge is $950, and the cost of a hotel stay is between $500 and $800 for a two-night package. The company has already sold tickets to more than 4,000 Indian fans, and Khandwala expects that number to grow to 5,500 by the time the tournament begins.

Sports tourism has grown into a lucrative market with many new entrants in recent years.

Popular Indian fantasy company Dream11 launched DreamSetGo in 2019, a company that aims to combine sports and high-end travel.

Indian fans
Regular cricket tournaments see huge support for the Indian team [David Gray/Reuters]

Bharat Army, the famous Indian cricket fan group that closely follows the team with large numbers around the globe, launched its own sports tourism branch called Bharat Army Travel & Tours in 2015.

Travel companies like Thomas Cook and Cox & Kings have also redoubled their efforts in this area.

“It is growing. The landscape is bad. Everyone will go sports, everyone wants sports, everyone wants to experience everything and sports tourism will be the most exciting thing about coming to India,” said Khandwala.

The numbers match his enthusiasm. A study conducted by Thrillophilia shows that experiential and adventure tourism is expected to grow at an annual growth rate of 17.4% from 2017 to 2023.

There is also a mindset shift driving this growth. Millennials, who prioritize experiences and are willing to spend money on them, are the largest demographic group in the country. One Deloitte’s research in 2019 shows that the ambition of 57% of millennials and an equal number of Generation Z in the country is to travel and see the world.

As before, India may not attend the World Cup but the people of India will once again make their presence in the stands.

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