There’s no denying that India is a cricket nation, but as years go by, the country seems to become more welcoming of other sports. We are seeing a rising interest in sports like Kabaddi, which is understandable since it’s a traditional game that becoming successful with its pro scene.
But aside from Kabaddi, another sport is becoming more popular in India and that’s European football or soccer to some. According to Statista, soccer is now the fourth most popular sport in the country. The English Premier League (EPL) alone was reported to have over 100 million local viewers.
What is behind this burgeoning interest in continental football leagues thousands of miles away? Let’s explore some key factors fueling this phenomenon.
Television and Digital Broadcasting
Well, cricket, of course, isn’t the only sport televised on local channels in the country. Television rights deals have made elite football competitions easily accessible to Indian households.
Star Sports has been at the forefront as they have the exclusive rights to broadcast premier tournaments like the EPL, La Liga, and Serie A. Live match telecasts along with supporting programming allow fans to follow the action week-in and week-out.
Then there’s also the rise of digital streaming platforms that are now supplementing TV coverage. Platforms like Hotstar give audiences untethered access to an endless football smorgasbord.
Fans can now catch every kick and follow their favorite global superstars regularly from the comfort of their devices. It also helps that India’s internet connectivity has greatly improved over the last few years. It’s simply easier to follow and keep track of their favorite teams because of this.
Star Power, Globalization, and Social Media
International football simply holds great allure which piques the interest of many local sports fans. Spanish giants Real Madrid, and Barcelona are some of the well-loved teams today. Successful English sides like Manchester United and Liverpool are also popular with EPL fans.
Giants like Bayern Munich and Juventus further drive interest in their respective German and Italian leagues. We all know how Indian sports fans crave action, and these are teams who give them exactly that.
When it comes to football players, names like Messi, Ronaldo, and Beckham are some of the crown favorites. What about the local scene? Well, Sunil Chhetri is one of the most prominent players in Indian football. He’s still the highest goalscorer and most-capped Indian footballer.
Now, it’s also noteworthy how social media act as twin linking forces connecting Indian fans more deeply with European football. They’ve become platforms hosting lively discussions between football fans.
Today, there are now plenty of Facebook fan pages, groups, and even Instagram handles dedicated to football stars that are managed by Indian fans. Football merchandise sales are also booming both online and via specialized brick-and-mortar stores in metro hubs.
Another thing worth pointing out is that more betting apps and sites that offer their services to Indians are also starting to focus on this sport. For example, 10CRIC isn’t exactly a football betting site but it now offers multiple betting odds whenever the likes of EPL are on.
The Indian Super League and The National Indian Football Team
Now, football becoming a big thing in the country isn’t something that’s just happening.
The Indian Super League (ISL) has been around since 2013. This is the highest level of professional football in India that is managed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and its commercial partner, Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL).
The ISL currently has 12 clubs and would usually take place between September and March. The 2023-23 ISL is ongoing and here are all the clubs participating: Bengaluru, Chennaiyin, East Bengal, Goa, Hyderabad, Jamshedpur, Kerala Blasters, Mohun Bagan SG, Mumbai City, NorthEast United, Odisha, and Punjab.
This tournament is set to run from September 21, 2023, to 2024 with 68 matches in total.
Now, when it comes to the international scene, India has their national team that won the gold medal during the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games. They also finished fourth place during the 1956 Summer Olympics.
Yes, it’s been a long time since the national football team has performed well on the international scene. However, it’s worth noting that during the 2023 Asian Games, they were able to reach the knock-out rounds.
With football becoming more popular in the country, it could be a catalyst for the team to make more efforts to do better on the global stage.
Even if cricket is still the most popular sport in the country, we can still say that there’s a good chance that more locals will get into European football. Especially now that many are starting to follow local football matches in the ISL.
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