+91 Europe held a ground breaking football event which was lead sponsored by the Financial Times. This unique event explored how English clubs like Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Chelsea etc, can leverage their global brands and huge fan bases for merchandising, and development of the game at grass roots level in India. Guest speakers included: Mihir Bose, BBC Sports Editor; Ian Ayre, Commercial Director, Liverpool FC; Robert Elstone, CEO, Everton FC; Steve Bellis, CEO, Kickworldwide; Arunava Chaudhuri, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Indian Football. Abbas Farid, UK Nike Football Freestyle Champion and an official Guinness world record holder performed live at the event and delighted guests with his sublime skills.
In the past, any conversation about India and football was about corner flags and corner shops. Now, as India emerges on the global stage, it is also embracing the global game - football. In recent years, Premier League and European matches are attracting enormous television audiences amongst the young and affluent in the major Indian metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Calcutta, Goa and Kerala. It's estimated that over 40 million Indians regularly watch Premier League games.
Mihir Bose, multi-award winning sports journalist and BBC Sports Editor, cast a gimlet eye over the Indian football scene. He confirmed that football and cricket were introduced to India at the same time by the British. But whilst cricket was taken up by the elites, the masses played football. In a country famous for cricket, more people actually play football, although this does not reflect well in the national team's performance. There is clearly more work to be done to develop structures and bring through talent.
Mihir Bose produced a nugget of information, when he told the audience that Mahatma Gandhi whilst in South Africa applied to be a delegate for the Natal Football Federation, but was unsuccessful. Could India have won the World Cup by now if he had succeeded..?
Ian Ayre, Commercial Director, Liverpool FC, discussed the huge potential in India and his plans to set up a football development centre in Pune, India, with a local partner. Liverpool will aim to provide technical expertise at various levels, including coaching, pitch experts and commercial specialists. Robert Elstone, CEO, Everton FC, discussed the Chang shirt sponsorship deal and the potential to leverage the Everton brand across Asia.
Steve Bellis, CEO, Kickworldwide, and former Stockport County, Commercial Director, surprised the audience with his humorous recollections of how a league club like Stockport developed such an enormous following in China. He went on to discuss his pioneering TV football talent contest Soccer Prince which has been a big hit in China with 20,000 participants. Kickworldwide have plans to make a version of this show in India later this year.
Rakesh Rawal, founder of +91 Europe, said: "I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and passion this topic generated. India is a cricket obsessed country, but as many of the panelists confirmed, there are actually more Indians playing football than cricket on a regular basis. If you look at English football as a business and industry, many opportunities exist for English clubs willing to take the initiative and determined to develop long term relationships with Indian partners".
In attendance were high profile members of the Indian community from across Europe, top executives from the football and sports industries, and many members of the media.
The event was lead sponsored by the Financial Times. Rakesh Rawal said: "I am delighted that such as prestigious business publication like the Financial Times has backed +91 Europe. I very much hope the FT and +91 Europe can continue to work together on other events."