Supper Soccer: Feeding the Football frenzy
Supper Soccer: Feeding the Football frenzy

Sports licensing is becoming one of the most sought after categories in the brand licensing segment after witnessing huge demand for licensed merchandise products and apparels in India.

Off late, the frenzy over the inaugural Indian Super League (ISL) comprising eight teams, namely Atletico de Kolkata, Chennaiyin FC, Delhi Dynamos FC, FC Goa, FC Pune City, Kerala Blasters FC, Mumbai City FC and NorthEast United FC, has boosted the business of selling licensed merchandise of this mega sport.

Promoted by the IMG-Reliance joint venture, which has licensed the commercial rights to Indian football from the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the ISL is created and owned by a mix of industrialists, film personalities and former cricketers who have together paid a sum of Rs 12 crore per team.

The IMG-Reliance combine which bankrolls the league requires a wide spectrum of fans to embrace the league. Going by the base rate for ISL tickets, it is just Rs 200, a sum which is much lower than the ticket rates for the IPL and affordable to even the financially weaker sections of soccer lovers.

Having tasted success with Kabaddi League, Star India with a set aside revenue of Rs 6,100 crore for Hero ISL has been successful in getting an average viewership of 34 million since it began in October’14.

Glamour quotient

The ISL has signed several marquee players who bring in the much needed glamour to the sport. Former Liverpool hero Luis Garcia, France striker David Trezeguet, England goalkeeper  David James and Spain’s Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 winner Jaon Capdevilla have joined ISL, to name a few. These players may not be the talent that they once were, but they undoubtedly attract a fan base much needed in a country like ours.

Atletico de Kolkata as their name suggests are part owned by current La Liga champions Atletico Madrid. Delhi Dynamos FC represents the capital and partners with Dutch team Feyenoord, FC Goa is owned by industrialist Venugopal Dhoot.

The Kerala Blasters attract a million fans as country’s capable cricket player Sachin Tendulkar is a Co-owner. To top it all, Bollywood actors like Ranbir Kapoor and Salman Khan own the teams Mumbai City FC and FC Pune City, respectively, while NorthEast United FC in Assam is Co-owned by John Abraham and Chennaiyin FC owned by Abhishek Bachchan.

Having such huge A-list celebrities associated with the teams, inevitably provides assistance in helping to break out the football market in the country.

Brand partnerships & merchandising

Merchandising in India is although not a viable economic benefit across leagues, but as loyalty bases grow, the scenario is changing. The primary broadcaster of ISL, Star India is a promoter as well as the owner of the league, which undoubtedly leads to its aggressive marketing. Besides, there is a growing trend of sale of licensed merchandise of ISL where brand manufactures and e-tailers are in upfront maximising their business opportunities by keeping this trend alive.

Brain Child of Siddharth Taparia and launched in 2013, online licensed apparel merchandise store VoxPop Clothing develops quirky T-shirts in partnership with international and domestic entertainment, sports and other brands, including Disney, Marvel, Batman, Superman, and Game of Thrones, among others.

Off late, the company had also tied-up with ISL team Mumbai City FC and has designed limited edition T-shirts, in patterns of round and polo neck in various colours of white, blue and black and the collection is available on their website priced at Rs 699 and upwards.

Speaking on this association, Siddharth Taparia, CEO, VoxPop Clothing said, “We are essentially into designing fan-based merchandise and have previously associated with iconic brands like Disney, Warner Bros and now we have entered into licensing with a sports brand for the first time.”


Additionally, VoxPop has secured $1 million investment from existing investor Blume Ventures and a few other strategic investors. The funds will be utilised to expand product categories in higher margin products and brand partnerships. The company will also invest a part of the funds in its recently launched crowd-funding platform for designers and help independent brands develop and sell customised apparel to their fans or group, to build a network around it.

Brands want a platform to leverage their products and services and football is one of the most powerful tools used. Indranil Blah, CEO, Mumbai City FC, said, “The designs and options VoxPop Clothing is providing Mumbai City FC supporters are outstanding. We look forward to seeing our fans wearing the fan-wear through and beyond the season of the ISL.”

While most clubs are tying up loose ends when it comes to merchandising, team shirts are already available at most ISL venues. Chennaiyin FC is selling theirs for around Rs 295. Co-owner Utsav Parekh, Atletico de Kolkata, said, “The trend of signing up with online portals to sell merchandise is alive and will continue, as on the anvil are plans to peddle mobile covers, key chains, flags, coffee mugs, hoodies and mufflers.”

Furthermore, Viacom18 Media has pursued master licensing rights to sell Football Club Barcelona merchandise in India. Commenting on the partnership, Saugato Bhowmik, Senior Vice President, Consumer Products, Viacom18 Media, said “We are operating in exciting times today as we are extending our footprint from merchandising for network owned brands to acquiring master license rights for iconic brands across the world. Being an extremely progressive segment with high growth potential, sports merchandising has been a key focus category for us.”

This comes as a treat for Barca fans in the country, who can now buy everything from FC Barcelona apparel to sports gear. The entire product portfolio consists of over 200 SKUs to start with, and will be available at all leading online retail websites and retail stores across India.

Sports goods manufacturer Puma has supplied match balls to the ISL that kicked off in October’14 and will continue till December’ 14. Commenting on this, Abhishek Ganguly, MD, Puma India said, “Since its inception in 1948, Puma has focused on football and the brand has a rich legacy with the sport. The association with ISL brings in credibility and we are happy to be the official ball partner for the tournament.”

The brand has provided balls for all the matches in the competition and also for the clubs’ training sessions. Besides, to keep pace with the excitement for the ISL knockouts, the brand has designed a special ball.

With an upsurge in demand from consumers to buy merchandise from all football teams and with a room created by the developing fan base in the country, merchandise and T-shirts resembling official jerseys from other football clubs like Atletico de Kolkata, Chennaiyin FC, Delhi Dynamos FC, FC Goa, FC Pune City, Kerala Blasters FC and NorthEast United FC will hit the market shortly.

The success of sports business is inextricably linked with the ability to maximise merchandising and retailing opportunities and the knack to control the whole value chain and product life cycle. A key component of sports merchandising is to keep in mind the emotional involvement of fans attached with a particular team or club, which when borne in mind, will flourish the merchandising business to great heights.


Global Scenario

Retail is part of the whole sports experience for many fans, and helps generate engagement among people who live in different markets and for those who cannot attend matches. Spending on sports merchandising reflects the wider polarisation of buying habits, with transactional online shopping at one end, and retail as an entertainment at the other.

According to a new PwC report, “Global revenues from merchandising will total $ 20.1 billion in 2015 from $17.6 billion in 2010, with an overall 2.6 per cent compound annual increase.” Increased engagement among consumers leads to higher spending on merchandise.

As per data management and data analysis firm Stastica, “The global sports industry was estimated at $122 billion in 2010 and is expected to grow at $145 billion by 2015, with an annual growth rate of 4.5 per cent.”

Indian scenario

Research shows that sales of licensed products in the right retail environment brings alive the experience for shoppers for their favourite sports clubs, which can certainly allow the licensees to reap the benefits of licensing and expand their merchandising portfolio.

Sid Shah, President, Wild East Group, brand licensing agency and consulting firm said, “With the Indian retail market expected to increase to $ 800 billion by 2015 and organised retail set to emerge as a leading piece, retailers will find merchandising as a lucrative option to ramp up their earnings and market share.”

A way forward

Commonly referred as the ‘sleeping giant’ by FIFA President Sepp Blatter in 2007, the question to ponder over is, has Indian Football finally woken up from its long slumber with the launch of ISL? There have been attempts from both sides of the teams and the brand owners and marketers to resort to merchandising and licensing as a tool to help India embrace this sport.

Although initial signs look positive, but going by the history, football in our country is not seen as a promising sport and the general perception of it is not very positive among the crowd.

However, going by the performance of the teams and sheer efforts from all sides to generate a wider fan base of the sport, the ISL will be one of the first steps in helping India embrace a sport that has been underperforming for a long time. To conclude, there shouldn’t be too much of a problem if it manages to catch eyeballs – so ‘Let’s Football’! 

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