MUMBAI: Even though cricket is India's national sport, a growing number of brands are putting money into football, seeing it as a way to reach younger consumers and to develop a whole new market.

For a sports brand such as Nike, with a global focus on football, this might appear an unsurprising strategy, but Coca-Cola, the soft drinks giant, and Bharti Airtel, the telecoms business, are also among those involved. And during a World Cup year they are increasing their investment.

"For us, it is important to be at the top line and grass roots," Avinash Pant, head of marketing at Nike India, told the Business Standard.

"The goal is to create a connect with the consumer and at the same time, be a part of the growth of the sport," he added.

One way brands are doing this is via their links to global footballing brands such as Manchester United, the current holder of the English Premier League title. Nike, for example, runs an annual tournament for under-15s, the Manchester United Premiere Cup, aimed at discovering new talent.

Bharti Airtel also has a tie-up with Manchester United, as its official telecoms partner in India, Sri Lanka, the Seychelles and Bangladesh.

And, like Nike, it runs a competition, in its case the three-month long Inter-School Tournament, drawing on players from more than 450 schools. The best get to attend a week-long coaching clinic held by Manchester United Soccer School coaches.

Airtel customers can also offer customers exclusive access to Manchester United football content and match experiences, although given the club's current woes that may not be as attractive an option as before.

Coca-Cola also runs an under-16 tournament which feeds players into the national side at that age level.

And while rival Pepsi sponsors cricket's India Premier League, it has taken note of the growing popularity of football and targeted young people with a football-based campaign combining stunts and events with social media. This reached 153m people on social media and has been shortlisted for the Warc Prize for Social Strategy.

Nike's Pant noted that there were two ways of connecting with the core audience of football enthusiasts. "Active players can be roped in through our on-ground activations which are demographically targeted," he said, while non-playing supporters "can get their fill of football through social media interactions on the Nike Football Facebook page".

Data sourced from Business Standard; additional content by Warc staff