NEW DELHI: Brands targeting Indian sports fans will have a potentially significant new outlet in 2014, as three major investors plan to launch an eight-team Super League to take advantage of the nation's growing interest in football.
Sports agency IMG, conglomerate Reliance Industries and broadcaster Star India have each taken a third share in the vehicle which is aiming to replicate the TV popularity of Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket.
"Having Star on board as a partner strengthens our efforts and commitment to propel Indian football to its rightful place," Nita M Ambani, chairperson of IMG-Reliance, told the Economic Times.
"We see the launch of the football league as the realisation of a dream of billion plus Indians to experience the most cherished game globally in new ways," she added.
In 2011, cricket attracted 122m Indian TV viewers while football viewing levels were around two thirds of that, at 83m. But there is a much wider gap in advertising rates, since most of current viewing is for overseas soccer.
The new league will feature teams from major cities, including Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi, Goa, Kochi, Pune and Bangalore. And, like IPL cricket, wealthy individuals are likely to bid for the franchises. The Ambani family, for example, already owns the Mumbai Indians IPL team.
Uday Shankar, chief executive officer of Star India, said India was "hungry for its second sport" and Star would bring "an unparalleled football experience" to its viewers. "We want to put India on the global map," he declared. The ultimate aim, Livemint noted, is to help India qualify for the 2036 Fifa World Cup.
Sam Balsara, chairman of media buying firm Madison World, welcomed Star's "aggressive foray" as being good for both sport and television. He hoped that large investments in football would "create another culture of sport in the country instead of only cricket".
There is already a widespread following for English Premier League football which has attracted the attention of leading clubs. Arsenal, for example, is opening a series of official Arsenal Soccer Schools across the country, while Liverpool is setting up a residential football coaching academy to develop players up to the age of 18.
Data sourced from Economic Times, Livemint; additional content by Warc staff