Over the past two decades, a shift in sports viewers’ loyalty has been incipient, especially among the urban youth; a shift that is taking their interests further away from the country’s love of cricket, and more towards football in Europe. There seems to be some X-factor that football has chanced upon, from which cricket has remained aloof.
This diversification of “commodity basket” can have many reasons. For one, the Australian cricket team established a near complete hegemony over the sport in the 90’s, which is only just starting to dwindle. Watching teams scramble for the second place hardly makes for a real competition, especially if your national team is in and out of that competition. With the coming and improvement of cable television, internet etc, the world of sports in India is no longer restricted to cricket, hockey and the very old kabbadi. The amount of time spent watching an ordinary cricket match, before the coming in of T20, was always higher than a match of football or tennis. A minimum of seven and half hours, concentrated in some parts of the year, is what cricket fandom demands as opposed to 2 hours every week or 2 weeks during the year for football. Coupled with an increase in parental checks on television hours, and a tinge of rebellion among the youth, English football teams have suddenly become hot property. This is a consequence of the inception of the English Premier League, as it is today, in 1992. This led to a wave of commercialization of world football, with the names Manchester United and Zidane, becoming as recognizable as Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid.
The start of each individual as a fan is not restricted to one certain factor. It comes down to a question of what clicks, and hooks a person on to the sport. It could be the competitive arena and stadiums full of singing fans. Much inspiration is drawn from a person watching a particular match, where a team or a player performs brilliantly. That acts as setting of a standard in the person’s mind, creating the expectation of repetition of the performance, and support for the team to produce the same. A team often gets support because of the players in it, who have become global celebrities. One of the reasons for the popularity of the English club Manchester United in Asia has been the presence of David Beckham in the ranks, drawing crowds and viewership as well as sale of heavily advertised items. Clearly, reputation has a huge part to play in the decision of many people when deciding what team to support. Teams that have performed well over the years, automatically draw a first time supporter, especially so in India, where it is not your birthplace that determines who you support.
Football managers, owners of teams and members of governing bodies too are subject to a lot of scrutiny. The antics of some, the billions doled out by others like Roman Abrahamovich(owner of Chelsea FC), and the politics of decision making by itself is quite a crowd puller, especially when subjected to sensationalization on part of the media. The internet has played no small part in the growth of the ‘industry’ with clubs and players having their own sites, publishing interviews, news, policies, fresh controversies et al. This is not to say that attention has fallen off the game completely. The biggest expansion of support base still lies in how well you play football. A good spell of passing, individual skill with the ball, excellent goal saves all carry great merit, for the teams and supporters alike.
As a fan, one would want their team to do well and win trophies. However, the ends and means are not easily separated. It is the heart wrenching process involved in that the fans want their team to see out easily. They want the team to win every match, win every moment in a match, score plenty of goals and not concede any. There comes with support, a certain measure of irrationality, of wishing for mistakes from the opposing teams, silently egging on one’s own team, of not understanding holding back energy or playing defensively. One wants to see a beautiful display of skill from the players, day in and day out.
Watching these matches on TV, in restaurants and bars also carries its share of charm. Trash talk, friends’ company makes for fun times, all complemented with the adrenalin and excitement of a sporting event. There is a circle created between advertising and emotion, each necessitating the presence of the other, as well as creating it. The sports apparel, whether it is jerseys, boots or even everyday items like bags, bed sheets or posters, these things have a huge market, in countries around the world. People in India now follow European football avidly and many people have taken up the game professionally. Interest levels have risen exponentially, and the game has started to become ingrained in the minds of people, despite India’s currently abysmal world-standing in the sport. The future holds a betterment of the Indian team, and only a further increase in the game’s popularity.