The Telegraph
| Sunday, June 8, 2014 |


Fever pitch

The Chatterjees are all ready. They have carefully placed packets of puffed rice in their suitcases, along with boxes of tea. "We hear tea is exorbitant in Brazil," Pannalal Chatterjee, 81, frets. He and his 79-year-old wife, Chaitali, are off to Brazil with three friends. World Cup football starts on June 13, and the Kidderpore residents are not going to miss the fun and the game.

The Brazil supporters have not missed a World Cup since 1982, when the games were held in Spain. Other soccer supporters, such as travel company Club 7, are sponsoring parts of their 15-day trip. "We are a bit apprehensive about the disturbances in Brazil," Chatterjee says.

But disturbances or not, the World Cup fever has spread across India. Like the Chatterjees, a great many soccer enthusiasts are on their way to Brazil.

Travel portal recently conducted a travel survey of over 600 sports enthusiasts in the metros. Around 45 per cent of respondents who chose soccer as their favourite sport claim to have already booked their tickets for Brazil while 33 per cent say they are looking for the best deals.

"On ixigo. com itself, we have seen a 15-20 per cent upsurge in flight searches and 12-15 per cent in hotel searches for Brazil, clearly spelling out the football fever," says Saurabh Srivastava, vice-president, marketing and product strategy.

A leading global travel search site, Skyscanner, says the searches for Brazil among Indian travellers increased sixfold this year. "Rising disposable income gives sports enthusiasts the means to fulfill their desire for unique experiences," points out Daniel D'souza, head of sales, Kuoni India, tour operators.

While the lucky ones are off to Brazil, other soccer maniacs are all set to watch the matches in India, when it will be aired late night or early morning. Among them is Soumyadipta Das, a Calcutta-based chartered accountant and a diehard Germany fan.

"I plan to watch each and every match of Germany and for that I am rescheduling my work. In fact, I have also saved up all my leave for the games," says Das.

That cricket-loving Indians are embracing football is also endorsed by a survey conducted by Tam Sports, a part of TAM Media Research. Titled "Football — Consumption by the Indian Television Audience", it says that the number of people who watched football on television rose from 83 million in 2008 to 138 million by October, 2012. Football attracted 60 per cent more audiences from 2005 to 2009. The largest audiences are in West Bengal, Kerala and then Assam.

"It is estimated that 287 million people in India watched the Fifa World Cup in 2010. The popularity of the English Premier League, which is broadcast on satellite channels, has also proliferated amongst Indian fans," says Ravi Menon, head, foreign exchange, Cox & Kings Ltd, which won the exclusive rights to promote hospitality packages for the Fifa World Cup 2014.

With football catching on, companies are jumping on to the bandwagon. The deals vary — from merchandise to sports programmes to freebies. Cox & Kings has tied up with the Liverpool Football Club and the UK-based ELITES (education and learning initiative training entrepreneurs in sport) to promote and sell an educational-cum-football programme. "The programme is designed to give aspiring students a chance to learn to play 'the Liverpool Way' while also improving their English language skills," Menon says.

All around — from embassies and hotels to pubs, bars and homes — grand plans are being designed. The newly revamped Lalit Great Eastern, Calcutta, offers special beer buckets and scratch cards, while the Imperial in Delhi has dishes from the countries that figure in the games. Rudresh Agarwal, a Calcutta-based entrepreneur, plans to open his sports-themed cafe, The Dugout (shaped like a stadium), just before the World Cup starts. "It makes sense because football-crazy Calcutta goes berserk during World Cup matches," Portugal supporter Agarwal says.

Many of the top international brands too are cashing in on the football fever. On April 2, Coca-Cola launched a #WorldsCup 24 hour LIVE Digital Day Activation on social media. India was among the 85 nations that participated in it, and its posts trended the highest, receiving 249 million impressions.

Coke has also created a football pitch-sized "Happiness Flag" made up of fan images from across the globe. To be unveiled shortly, it features over 13,000 football fans from India — the highest number after the Brazilians.

In December 2013, the Fifa World Cup Trophy Tour by Coca-Cola, travelling 92,000 miles across 90 countries, arrived in Calcutta for a three-day celebration. "A nation of 1.2 billion and amongst the top 10 economies of the world, India, indeed, had to be on the trophy tour map," a spokesman says.

With India also getting ready to host the U-17 Football World Cup in 2017, sports and apparel giants are making the most of the growing soccer mania. Shoes, T-shirts, shorts, jerseys and the official Fifa match ball, Brazuca, have been flying off the shelves.

"Compared to 2010, we have sold close to five times the number of the official match ball. Even our football boots sales have doubled in the last two years," says Tushar Goculdas, brand director, Adidas India.

Adidas India also conducted the Adidas Fifa FairplayFlagbearers Program — a hunt for six football fans from India who will be sent to watch the pre-quarter match at Sao Paulo, Brazil, on July 1, Goculdas adds. Five boys and one girl from Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi have been selected.

Nokia launched a new app called "OnefootballBrasil'' last month and a game FIFA14 in March specifically for the World Cup. "The app is already in the top downloads for May," says Navdeep Manaktala, head of developer experience, Nokia India Sales.

Online retailer Flipkart has created a special football store for Fifa. "Football related merchandise has seen a 20 per cent spike in sales in the last few days," says Rohit Chitteth, director — retail, Flipkart.

Television companies, expecting sales to rise by 15-30 per cent, are rolling out new TV models.

Among those grabbing prime spots in front of their sets will be the children of Sonagachhi's sex workers, says Biswajeet Majumdar, former footballer and sports coach for the children at Durbar, an NGO.

Excitement is mounting in another part of India. In Kerala, God's own football field, the countdown has begun. The Nainamvalappu Football Fans Association (NFFA), located in a village outside Calicut, has hired a school auditorium where all the matches will be aired on a big screen.

On Sunday, the NFFA organised a Mini World Cup. "The stadium was packed to capacity," NFAA president, N.V. Subair says. Eight teams comprising local footballers played in the Mini World Cup event. The teams included Brazil, Argentina, England, Holland, France and Italy. The winning team's prize was a wooden replica of the Fifa trophy, made by Calicut's carpenters.

The Chatterjees and the children of Sonagachhi's sex workers should be happy. Brazil beat Italy 3-2 to win the trophy.