Tuesday, June 9, 2009

EPL in India: Growing Popularity, Expanding Market and TV Rating

India has never been a football crazy country as it can be said for Cricket. Cricket is, in fact, like a religion in India and the cricket stars like Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni are regarded as God among the cricket fans. Football, on the other hand, could not yet produce any international star like Sachin or Dhoni, and despite having its first football club, Mohun Bagan, being set up in 1889, India has never become a striking force in world football. Even their success in Asia stretches back to 1950’s and 60’s when India won the Asian Games in 1951 and 1962.

Well, things started changing towards the end of 1990s when satellite television channels started telecasting English Premier League (EPL) matches in India. That was the time when EPL was also emerging as dominating league in Europe, following an era dominated by Italian and Spanish clubs. Clubs like Manchester Untied was not only dominating English league, but also showing sheer dominance in Champions League. Thanks to EPL, football was gaining popularity in India and that trend still continues as the number of EPL fan in India has been increasing significantly. With the increasing popularity of football in India, the number of television viewers for EPL is also increasing significantly in the country, and thus, English Premier League clubs are now looking to explore a new market of football in India.

Growing Popularity

India is a big country and in fact, is the second largest country in terms of population after China. However, football is still limited within two states: West Bengal and former Portuguese colony, Goa. Most of the time, clubs hailed from these two states dominate domestic football in India. However, the popularity of English premier league is not only confined to these two states. Rather, EPL has a large number of fanbase in the developed cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai and in the streets, you can see young people wearing shirts of many EPL teams like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. Many of them are fans of star players like Steven Gerrard, Cristiano Ronaldo, Cesc Fabregas or Frank Lampard. Popularity of EPL is so huge that these days, Indian media gives more importance to EPL than domestic football and there are many who even blame Indian media for this reason.

However, it does not mean that the popularity of local football has not improved over the last few years. In fact, domestic football in India now attracts more people in the states like West Bengal and Goa. Some of the traditional rivalries in West Bengal even turn up 100,000 fans. Having seen the quality of English football (EPL), Indian football fans are now more concerned about the development of Indian football. I think, EPL played a big role behind the reformation of India’s domestic football that was done few years back when All India Football Federation (AIFF) came up with a professional model in India’s Premier football league named ‘I-League’, comprising of 12 teams. Professionalism has not emerged fully in Indian football, but EPL has had a subtle impact on the whole system.

So far, cricket was the only sports in India where corporate sponsorship was easy to come by. However, football seems to have started attracting corporate sponsorship these days. Big companies like Airtel are now turning to domestic football, having seen the significant increase in the popularity of the game over the last few years. Sponsorships from business entrepreneurs like Billionaire Vijay Mallya are also seen in Indian domestic football these days. Vijay Mallya has recently sponsored two football teams in Kolkata, West Bengal. Because of the growing popularity of EPL in India, we can see contests like “Extreme Manchester United Fan” in West Bengal.

TV Rating

There has been a huge increase in the television viewership of EPL in India. In fact, 60 million people in India enjoyed EPL matches in 2007-08 season, a sharp jump from previous season’s 42 million. This statistics suggest the surging popularity of English premier league in the country. The fanbase of English clubs are also increasing and this is being reflected in the price of telecast right of EPL in this region.

At this moment, ESPN-Star Sports holds the Indian television right of EPL, and for that, ESPN-Star Sports had to pay an amount which was doubled the amount they had paid the previous time. 2006 world cup football turned up 627 million television viewers in India and that is why, to acquire the TV rights of 2010 world cup football, television channels would have to pay more than £20 million, four times bigger than the amount paid in 2006. Well, television channels do not have any problem to pay such a big amount because they are finding television ads coming pretty easily thanks to the increasing number of television viewers of EPL.

Expanding Market

Having seen extensive growth in the popularity of football, English football clubs are now very much interested to yet-to-explore Indian market. They are struggling in finding any room for growth in England or other European market. That is why, clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal now want to increase the fan base in India. Both Manchester Untied and Arsenal conducted talent hunt program in India in 2007 and picked up a small group of talented young players for training at their training facilities in England.

(This entry was first published in February 2009. Because of a technical problem, the entry had to be deleted and I am reposting again now.)


  1. nice one......got a lot of info for my project


  2. A very very good and usefull article.
    I'm also a very big fan of man utd