Of the 1.8 million Qatar 2022 World Cup tickets purchased in the first two phases, more than 23,500 were purchased by fans in India.
After the first round of ticketing, India ranked seventh in gross ticket sales.
At Russia 2018, nearly 18,000 Indian fans attended. Of all non-competing countries, India had the third highest number of followers in Russia, behind only America and China.
So what drives fans of a country, whose women’s side is ranked 58th and men’s squad is 104th and has never played in a World Cup, to the biggest sporting event in the world? in such large numbers?
It’s a weird dichotomy exemplified by the fact that men’s national team captain Sunil Chhetri wanted to post a video via the Indian Soccer Crew’s Twitter deal urging fans to attend the FIFA Cup qualifiers. Team Asia in Kolkata in June this year.
There’s something pitiful about the video, that one of the country’s finest sportsmen, a man who sits third on the list of active world goalscorers, has to beg fans to come back and watch his team in the flesh. .
While the video had the specified impact and led to sold-out crowds, it reflects the state of Indian football.
In May this year, it was reported that funding for the All India Football Federation (AIFF) had been cut by 85 per cent. Last month, FIFA briefly banned India for third-party interference.
Low labor efficiency for boys, a scarcity of construction in the girls’ game, and insufficient growth locally had been cited as causes for the price drop.
160 million football fans in India
In January this year, a YouGov survey carried out on behalf of Indian Football League member FC Goa confirmed that there were 160 million football fans in India. The eagerness for the game clearly exists, it’s just a matter of where it’s channeled.
“The problem is how fans are separated in India, in the sense of the type of identification they have about football,” said Debanjan Banerjee, a Bangalore-based football lore and behavior researcher. .
“There is a reason why it is distorted in the world that India has no football supporters because the number of fans supporting Indian football may be much less than the ratio supporting European football. “
As one of the core members of the Blue Pilgrims – a group of supporters who follow the Indian men’s and women’s soccer groups every game, Banerjee has a transparent understanding of the attitudes and behaviors of the national groups.
At a time when football has become what Banerjee says is a ‘global identification for youth’, he believes India’s lack of success on the world stage has made it difficult for fans to connect with the team .
“The raison d’etre of a football club or the reason people travel for football is to define themselves in a way that they feel is bigger than themselves and also connects them to something that is more profitable and constructive,” he said.
This means fans are likely to impersonate.
Banerjee spent the 2018 World Cup in the southern Indian state of Kerala, making a documentary about the state’s connection to football.
In it, he vividly captured the frenzy the match evoked in the people and religious fandom of Brazil and Argentina. The fan teams of these nations functioned as political events: separate “workplaces” where fans congregate and watch matches together.
An organizing committee has proven successful by erecting cutouts of players along the streets as well as giant murals up to 50 feet (15 meters) high.
The rivalries run deep and these fan teams continually try to outdo each other. In one of the many scenes in the documentary, a fight breaks out between the teams in the middle of the night and must be broken up by the parish church.
Love affair with Argentina, Brazil
Rakesh Pai is one of those Argentinian fanatics from Kerala. Pai, who works at a finance agency in Bangalore, became captivated by the Albiceleste, as most had been, by Diego Maradona.
His first contact with the World Cup was seven years ago in 1990, where his last memory was Maradona crying in the rest.
Pai didn’t know who he was, but his pain echoed inside him. A love story was born from this grief.
His ardor only grew over the years, and in 2010 he flew to South Africa with his brother to witness Argentina in the flesh for the first time.
While the game ended badly for Argentina, the experience hooked Pai. In 2014, Pai went to Brazil with his wife and brother. He and his brother also learned Spanish to mingle with other Argentinian fans. These friendships were rekindled at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Qatar 2022 will likely be Pai’s fourth World Cup and he spoke of receiving quite a few calls from friends and acquaintances asking about ticketing and prices.
He explained that some of these people are not even ardent football fans. Apart from Qatar’s geographical proximity to India, Pai believes the perceived problem in obtaining a visa prevents people from traveling to other distant countries.
“The visa was never an issue at these World Cups. There are a few communication points from which I faced problems in South Africa and Brazil, but it was by no means case a problem getting a visa,” he said. “However, we [Pai and his brother] didn’t know it at the time. It was only after getting the visa that we realized “Oh, the method is so simple”.
The Middle East consolation problem cannot be ignored.
Representing a few quarters of the population, there are more than 750,000 Indians in Qatar.
The possibilities of meeting a friend or relative who lives in Qatar are excessive and besides providing an accommodation option, they could help secure match tickets. Pai got tickets for the semi-finals through a friend who lives in Qatar.
There is a separate class only for residents of Qatar with tickets starting at 40 riyals ($11 or 876 Indian rupees) and they are allowed to have non-residents as friends.
The close proximity to stadiums can be an advantage for traveling supporters. However, this is undoubtedly one of the reasons why Rakesh Haridas, longtime football fan and co-founder of the legendary Bengaluru FC West Block Blues supporters group, is simply not too eager to attend the 2022 World Cup.
“Qatar 2022 does not excite me. You are going to a World Cup to discover the country as such. for those watching Russia, one game was in Sochi, one in Moscow… that’s the whole World Cup setup and one thing we all know,” he said.
Nonetheless, Haridas understands that it is the players, not the venues, that draw fans to Qatar.
“This sunset period of a number of football’s biggest stars is a huge addition. Firstly, these are people you’ve grown up watching over the last 12 to 15 years. simple to see Messi playing in Qatar than in Paris,” he said.
The nature of this World Cup’s bucket list is what makes it such a great proposition for business.
“The ultimate in luxury” packages
Raj Khandwala, CEO of Mumbai-based sports administration and travel company Slicing Edge, spoke about the monotony that has crept into the company’s traditional social events like sightseeing and road trips. box.
“Now they [corporates] need to create experiences for its buyers, customers or workers. So they have to present them with an F1 race or a Wimbledon match or a soccer World Cup. Something that is an experience for them,” Khandwala said.
Slicing Edge is the exclusive sales agent for match hospitality in India for this year’s World Cup and Khandwala estimated hospitality ticket sales in India could be between $20 million and $25 million.
The companies account for nearly 75% of Slicing Edge’s gross sales for the World Cup. Packages range from “top luxury” to “true fan expertise” according to their brochure. Packages include personal dining experiences, six-course meals with live chef counters, champagne selections, extended service, prime match views, and preferential parking, among other things.
The most affordable game ticket provided by Slicing Edge is $950, and the resort stay fee is between $500 and $800 for a two-night package. The company has currently run the ticketing for over 4,000 Indian fans and Khandwala expects that number to rise to 5,500 by the time the match begins.
Sports tourism has become a profitable market with many new entrants in recent times.
The excellent Indian fantasy company Dream11 launched DreamSetGo in 2019, an organization that aims to combine sports activities and high-end travel.
Bharat Military, India’s famous group of cricket supporters that follows the workforce in large numbers across the world, launched its own branch of sports tourism known as Bharat Military Journey & Excursions in 2015.
Travel companies like Thomas Cook Dinner and Cox & Kings have also stepped up their efforts for this house.
“It’s going up. The panorama is crazy. People are going to do sports, everyone wants to do sports, everyone has to know about the issues and sports tourism is the main reason to come to India,” Khandwala said.
The numbers match his enthusiasm. A study by Thrillophilia confirmed that travel and experiential tourism is expected to grow at a contrasting annual growth rate of 17.4% from 2017 to 2023.
There may also be a change in mentality behind this progress. Millennials, who prioritize experiences and want to spend money on them, are the country’s largest demographic. A Deloitte study in 2019 confirmed that the ambition of 57% of Millennials and an equal number of Gen Zers within the country was to travel and see the world.
As before, India may not take part in the World Cup but the Indians will once again make their presence felt in the stands.