A few days ago, skipper of our national football team, Sunil Chhetri made a historic plea to the entire nation to come to the stadium to watch the team play and another history was created when the nation responded with filled seats and fiery slogans to cheer the ‘blue tigers’.
A few years back, if you had asked someone what is India’s favorite sport, the only answer would have been Cricket. However, the situation has changed dramatically and with the rise of sports like Badminton, Kabaddi, and Football, India is looking forward to a much dynamic sports fandom.
Football, in specific, has found a special place in the hearts of Indian fans and the country successfully hosted its first ever FIFA event – the Under-17 World Cup last year. The two top leagues: Indian Super League and I-league have garnered a lot of attention from all sections of the society. Therefore, we at Onspon thought of learning a thing or two from the person who worked at both the leagues and is an avid football fan himself, Mr. Abhik Chatterjee.
Abhik Chatterjee is currently the General Manager of Fateh Hyderabad AFC, the first professional Club from Hyderabad to participate in the I-League.
Born in the City of Nawabs, Lucknow, Abhik later shifted to Mumbai to pursue engineering (read peer pressure), His love for Football (read Manchester United) manifested itself at an early age.
Starting off his career as a Product Manager with Reliance Communications, he gravitated in similar roles to companies like Hungama Digital Entertainment and Zee Entertainment Enterprises before returning to Reliance Communications.
Abhik also appeared on ESPN-Star's reality show "CLINIC ALL CLEAR DREAM JOB" and stood fifth on the show. He was part of the top 12 debaters chosen for of The Times of India's Youth Parliament.
The advent of the Hero Indian Super League saw him quit his job and link up with the League and then ISL club, NorthEast United FC subsequently where he served as First team Manager and also led the Sponsorships and Media division.
You were a techie for 5 years and then you switched into sports. What is it you like about sports that made you change your career path?
I worked in IT field for 4-5 years and had nothing to do with sports management back then. But I had always been a very passionate football fan and when Indian Super League started, it was almost as if I had to be a part of it. ISL brought a revolution in football in terms of marketing and professionalism. I also had a few friends who were a part of it and knowing my passion for the sport, they encouraged me to join them and I haven’t looked back yet since then.
Cricket is the mainstream sport when it comes to sponsorship in India. But you chose football. Can you give us a short pitch as to why sponsors should invest in football?
There is no doubt that cricket is the number one sport in India. However, our country has seen not only football but many other sports blossoming in the last few years like ProKabaddi League, Badminton League etc. Talking about football, it is the sport that is played by the younger generation and if you go out on the streets, you will see children playing football and this culture is bound to grow. The fandom for international football clubs has also been on a rise in India.
I believe our country is big enough to accommodate more than one leading sport and all the brands that cater to the age group of 16 to 35-year-olds are seeing the value in investing in football. We have some premium brands investing in it and over the next 10 years, this market is going to develop into a much stable form.
You have been associated with both ISL (Indian Super League) and I-League. What difference have you noticed between the two?
Primarily the difference is that ISL is run by IMG-Reliance: FSDL to be precise and the I-league is conducted by the All India Football Federation with IMG Reliance as its marketing partner. ISL has a lot more money in it with a fantastic marketing team, sponsors, celebrity owners and therefore, a very well organized league garnering a lot of attention from the fans. On the other hand, I-League is the national football league with teams being older than 100 years. The teams have a loyal and dedicated fan-base. Although, due to low marketing budgets, it is not as streamlined or glitzy as the ISL but with the history and the feeling of community and emotions that one associate with a national team, the league has its own charm.
How does Fateh Hyderabad make money other than from ticketing and sponsorship?
Fateh Hyderabad is a new club started 4 years ago. There are limited sources for the club to make money in the Second Division I-League because Hyderabad is in a developing stage as a football market. However, at the same time, it is one of the most professional clubs existing in its segment and has a very ambitious group of people who are looking to take it to the next level. We are probably, the only club in India to have a joint venture with a UK based company called Premier Education group which is one of the revenue streams for the club. Premier is the leading provider of physical education programmes in schools in the UK and has been expanding its footprint internationally with over 10 Million Children in its programs worldwide. At Premier India, we have established ourselves in Hyderabad and have expanded into Delhi recently. We are projecting over 50,000 kids to be a part of our program within the next five years. This we believe is the future revenue stream for this football club.
We also believe that depending on ticket sales and merchandising for revenue generation in a new market like Hyderabad would take time and therefore we are trying to diversify the way in which we can attract future sponsors.
There are not many sponsors for football in India; however, the international football clubs enjoy a very good reputation when it comes to sponsorship. How do you see the growth of football sponsorship in India?
One of the primary reasons why international football clubs enjoy such a huge fanbase is the fact that they have been in existence for more than 100 years built on tradition and rich history. Along the way, all these clubs have become economic powerhouses and some of them attract close to 70,000 spectators every game.
India right now does not have a robust football culture. Currently, football stadiums sometimes attract a decent crowd but lack that emotional drive that we see for cricket in India. Sponsors look at how big the viewership base is for their brand to propagate and expose it to thousands of people. However, the situation is gradually changing with loyal fans crowding the stadiums to watch their favorite teams playing like Bengaluru FC, Kerala Blasters, and the Blue Pilgrims for the Indian National Team and therefore, premium brands like to invest in them.
My point being if the teams start to develop a culture of football, connect with their fans both on and off the field, and give back to the community, only then they would start acquiring more sponsorships as well. However, it will take time for all the current teams to achieve that.
Have you heard of Onspon? Do you think we are relevant?
I believe that one of the most important tasks for any club is to identify sponsors and that too in a country like India with so many verticals, it becomes a difficulty.The need is a firm that can provide them with customized options and ability to target their audience and Onspon just fits the requirement. The best part about Onspon is that it not only caters to the big guns but also small events like marathons etc. Connecting brands to events is a brilliant strategy and a relevant one in today’s time.
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.
We at Onspon would like to thank Abhik for taking out some time from his busy schedule and giving us valuable insights as to how the world of football is marching onto its bright future ahead! We wish Abhik and Fateh Hyderabad the very best for all their future endeavors.