The growth of the Premier League’s popularity has made a lasting impression across the globe, helping to develop the sport and the perception of the clubs across the world. Wherever you go you will find replica jerseys of some of the biggest teams in the Premier League and it’s no different in India, a hotbed for support of England’s top-flight.
Chiefs of the Premier League have tapped into the Indian marketplace by hosting an international fan event in Bengaluru, where Premier League experiences were offered to around 40,000 local fans- a higher number than some stadiums in the top-flight attract.
That event, which saw fans able to meet the Premier League’s all-time leading goalscorer and Newcastle United legend Alan Shearer, was the first opportunity for many fans to have hands-on experience of English football- and it’s unlikely to be the last.
Every year, Premier League clubs jet across the world for their pre-season campaigns, earning fitness ahead of the new campaign but, crucially, tapping into the global market- which could lead to clubs visiting India for a tour of their own, something which hasn’t happened as of yet.
This month, India has played host to the U17 World Cup, which concludes this weekend, marking the first FIFA tournament to be held in India. It’s likely to be a long time until the nation hosts its first major international football tournament but this is certainly a step in the right direction, with plenty set to flock to watch the semi-finals this week.
Hosting the FIFA tournament has significantly boosted football’s infrastructure within India and the effects of the tournament are set to be long-lasting, igniting a legacy that could be just the beginning of something very exciting.
Premier League club’s have been keen to tap into untapped markets in pre-season, with Arsenal and Chelsea travelling to the Far East this year, Manchester United playing games in the United States and Everton visiting Africa, and in the coming years India could be on the map.
India certainly has the capacity to attract big crowds and has the stadiums to host matches that would be heavily attended, it just needed the spark to ignite- and the FIFA U17 World Cup has provided exactly that.
Western sports’ impact
The Premier League would not be the first, or the last, to tap into the Indian market and would follow in the footsteps of the Formula 1, which held it’s inaugural Indian Grand Prix in 2011 that ran until 2013.
Tax issues have meant that a planned one-year absence from the Formula 1 calendar has dragged on for a number of years and it means there are barriers that need to be overcome for the Premier League to bring its clubs to India.
Revenue for the hosting of the Formula 1 was high and hosting Premier League clubs would provide a significant boost, though the argument would be whether the money went to specific India states or the central government- with the Uttar Pradesh government clashing with the FIA, leading to its absence.
Whether the arrival of Premier League clubs could help football in India rival the popularity of cricket remains to be seen but it would certainly close the gap, as the grip that football has on world sports is tightening.
Why does it appeal?
The key for the Premier League is that they see tangible benefits from bringing their product to India, as the sport is largely financial driven and the incentive on India won’t be down to appealing to the fans- no matter how they decide to work their PR.
The Premier League, and clubs from within England’s top-flight, would want to see financial benefits from expanding into the Indian market but it’s becoming clear they would get exactly that, with regular coverage of the Premier League on Indian networks and replica shirts continuing to sell extremely high amounts.
It may appeal to the smaller Premier League clubs, like West Brom and Stoke City, to tap into the Indian market before the big boys like Premier League favourites Manchester City, as the lure of England’s top clubs is so strong that fans become attached without having interaction- just seeing their success on TV is enough.
If those clubs were to come to India, then their support in the nation would likely increase, leading to further sponsorship opportunities and financial boosts. Now that the infrastructure is there in India, the financial appeal is the most important factor.