East Bengal is looking to host Premier League giants Manchester United as part of their ongoing centenary celebrations.
However, the proposed exhibition match to be held at the Salt Lake Stadium has run into financial hurdles. The proposed match with an estimated budget of Rs.30 crore is contingent upon East Bengal finding sponsors for the event.
For years, top European clubs have come to Asia on such trips but has given India the miss. Apart from Bayern Munich in 2008 and 2011, no other European giant has set foot in India.
“That’s perhaps because the market in India isn’t ready yet”, said Bhaswar Goswami, executive director Celebrity Management Group, the company that brought Lionel Messi’s Argentina to play a friendly in Kolkata against Venezuela in 2011. “It’s not true that clubs don’t want to come to India, they do, they are really keen. Every year, I get five to seven offers but the kind of money involved can’t be recovered.”
To elucidate his point, Goswami said, “A top European club would ask for around $3.5 million (approximately R 23.4 crore) as appearance money. Add to that travel costs, hotels and you are looking at $4 million (R 26.8 crore) or more to organise a tour that could comprise one or two matches. India is still some 10-12 years away from getting there.”
He further added, “It cost me around Rs. 20 crore to organize the Argentina-Venezuela friendly. When I was making a pitch, I was ridiculed by friends heading marketing departments in various corporate giants. That it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the world’s best player in his prime wasn’t saleable enough as a business proposition.”
Going by Goswami’s statements the event seems a non-starter. Perhaps, East Bengal should look at a smaller European club for their centenary celebrations. The cost of hosting a so-called smaller club would be much lower and manageable.
Keeping in view the financial limitations, perhaps, Scotland’s Glasgow Celtic FC could be a good fit. It is one of the iconic clubs in Europe but given the fact they ply their trade in Scotland, they aren’t as famous as their other European counterparts.
Such a venture could also help the Glasgow-based club to tap into the huge footballing base in the Indian sub-continent and beyond.
Sensing the opportunity, another Scottish club, Rangers FC recently entered into a partnership with ISL club Bengaluru FC. Although, playing a pre-season friendly does not seem to be on the horizon, the relationship between the two is much deeper- it extends to sharing expertise, facilities, goodwill, knowledge, scouting network and resources to enhance the quality of football in Scotland and India.
The collaboration has already resulted in Indian women’s football star Bala Devi signing a professional football contract with Rangers FC.
The move, according to Bengaluru FC CEO Mandar Tamhane, could be a game-changer for Indian women’s football with the country all set to host the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2020. “One of our key points of collaboration was to develop women’s football and this is the outcome of that,” he said.
Generally, top European clubs have ventured into Asia for commercial reasons. But such a shallow approach does nothing for the growth of Indian football.
Perhaps, East Bengal should take a leaf out of Bengaluru’s book and enter into a deeper strategic relationship with a European club- Whoever that might be.
Ultimately, that partnership should benefit East Bengal and Indian football at large.