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Why do Indian footballers miss out on brand endorsements like our cricketers and Olympians?

Despite having a promising pool of talent and showcasing their mettle globally, Indian footballers have never enjoyed any significant piece of the advertisement pie.

Why do Indian footballers miss out on brand endorsements like our cricketers and Olympians?

Md Imtiaz

Updated: 24 Nov 2021 8:38 AM GMT

The brand and advertisement ecosystem based on Indian sports is dominated mainly by cricket. From Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma to Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant, one can find most of India's A-list cricketers endorsing one brand or the other and appearing regularly on television or web commercials.

The trend has slowly picked up for Tokyo Olympic medallists too - Neeraj Chopra has become the poster boy of Indian advertisements, taking it to a higher notch with his viral Cred commercial. However, despite having a promising pool of talent and showcasing their mettle globally, Indian footballers have never enjoyed any significant piece of the advertisement pie.

The newly felicitated Khel Ratna awardee Sunil Chhetri is the only recognised footballer among brand portfolios of India, who can be seen appearing on Puma and Twelfth Man ads and earlier in commercials of Kia Motors. But Indian footballers have hit a roadblock in a world where cricketers have grabbed the lion's share. Multiple factors could be pointed out to analyse this gap in detail.

The short span of the Indian football season

India's top-tier, the Indian Super League (ISL), has 11 teams and provides 20 matches in a regular season that is wrapped up inside four months. The other divisions have even fewer games. ISL has expansion plans with 30 games a season for all teams. Each one will play the other three times. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant the league will now be played inside a bio-secure bubble for the second successive year in Goa.

ISL champions 2020-21 Mumbai CIty FC
On the other hand, Indian cricketers are prominently visible throughout the year. They are present in the audience's mind with an extensive set of series across all formats and the Indian Premier League (IPL), which offers a lucrative advertisement market. Therefore the retention value of Indian cricketers is much higher.

Way behind in the social media race

One of the biggest ways celebrities use social media is to build their brand by getting closer to their fans. Using Twitter or Instagram gives a star the chance to talk to his or her fans in a relatively safe environment. A retweet from someone you love is cause for celebration, and it makes you think the stars you love really are just like you. Now, one has to understand the gap of social media followers between cricketers and footballers. The most followed Indian on social media is the men's cricket team captain Virat Kohli, who enjoys a whopping 166 million follower base on Twitter, followed by MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma with 36.3m, 32.2m, 21.4m followers, respectively. Whereas the biggest star of Indian football, Chhetri, has a fan following of 1.7m on Instagram.
Virat Kohli's Instagram handle (Screen grab)

The second most-followed Indian footballer on this list is Kerala Blaster's Sahal Abdul Samad, who holds a fan following of 752K. "Brands are quite conscious in reaching out to athletes. They rely heavily on an athlete's social media. So that is why you will see brands like Cred or Dream 11 reach out to players like Kohli or Hardik, who have millions of followers on social media to create an immediate impact. People look up to them both parents and kids follow them on social media and aspire to the future generation to be like them. Cricket is like a religion in a country that is followed by millions thus the impact is higher when compared to that with any other sport.

"Football plays second fiddle to cricket but is now becoming a market that brands are interested in exploring. With players having followings bigger than some clubs, brands are looking to their influencer potential to engage with target audiences. It's certainly a trend that we have seen as an agency with more brands reaching out directly to engage with our athletes. I am positive that people will be seeing more Indian football personalities not only endorsing big brands in India but also globally too," says Wilbur Lasrado, who is a sports entrepreneur football agent working at Inventive Sports, with some of the top footballers of the nation.

The dearth of world-class success

The visibility of an individual athlete or team increases when they attain success on global stages. The biggest exponent of this theory is perfectly described Neeraj Chopra's phenomenal prominence after he won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. According to a research consultancy firm YouGov SPORT, Chopra recorded over 2.9 million mentions from over 1.4 million authors, making him the 'most mentioned' athlete globally on Instagram during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Naturally, the number of account followers for Neeraj Chopra has also seen a swift upswing, with his Instagram following recording a 2,297 percent increase in his followers. These further attracted a beeline of brands. The fundamentals of such brand attraction lie in his success.
On the contrary, the Indian football team has limited success on the world stage. Apart from stray successes, Indian football is still hugely mediocre, having little or no impact at the continental level and full of cosmetic changes. Indian football has been more in the news for being hosts or possible hosts of international events than performance on the ground in the last ten years.

Supremacy of European football

When it comes down to patriotism in sports, Indians prefer watching cricket or even the Olympics. But in football, Indians tend to follow European football leagues like EPL, Liga BBVA, Italian Serie A, etc., or international tournaments like the Euros or the Copa America. The discussions mostly hover around Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona, and Real Madrid. However, there is a clear gap in the understanding of Indian football. Religious followers of European football don't even know the 11 players of the Indian team. Therefore, Indian fans would be preferring watching advertisements by likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, instead of Chhetri, Sahal, or a Manveer Singh.

Pockets of Indian football

The Indian football ecosystem and its fan followers are largely based upon a few pockets of the country, including West Bengal. Goa, Kerala, which sees a massive turnaround of fans during the matches of their local clubs. The Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata boasts of attendances of over 80,000 people during the derby match of SC East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.

A Kolkata derby in action (Source:
However, in the other parts of the country, Indian football is not as hugely followed. As a result, brands don't consider targetting football to be a part of the pan-India market, unlike cricket which holds its popularity across the length and breadth of the country.
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