In August, Chelsea Football Club launched an initiative to create a fan base in China—and monetize it through merchandising team products. Recently, it launched a similar site in the US.
And now, says chief executive Peter Kenyon, it’s India’s turn. Kenyon, in the Capital on Monday as a member of the London mayoral delegation, says India “will be an economic powerhouse by 2020”, and that his club was looking at “finding the right partner” to raise its profile in the country.
Chelsea Football Club CEO Peter Kenyon
One area Chelsea is keen on is setting up a dedicated website for Indian fans, to become their “second club” when they are not rooting for a local team. “We have just launched a membership drive in the US, there’s fan website, and it’s definitely worth looking at in India,” Kenyon said.
“I think it’s important to communicate with the fans. We’ll have a partnership with a media company in India.”
It’s a strategy Chelsea is pursuing in China currently; it has tied up with one of the country’s biggest portals, Sina.com, to launch a website in Mandarin. Revenues are split, and Sina expects to profit within a year.
The move, which is believed to have added more than a million people to Chelsea’s fan base, is radically different from the way other European soccer clubs such as Manchester United, Juventus or Real Madrid have entered China; these teams play friendlies with local outfits for a fee, and Manchester United even opened two club-themed restaurants that had to be shut down as losses mounted.
The Chelsea chief says he hoped its two partners, sports goods and footwear manufacturer Adidas and electronics giant Samsung, would help the club fan football across the country.
“India is an important market for them; this is the place for global brands ... we hope to work with them in India.” Spokespeople for Samsung and Adidas said nothing has been finalized.
At the same time, Chelsea is also open to Indian corporate houses sponsoring its proposed soccer development project in the country.
Kenyon says the interest is not all about making money, at least right away. Economic value can be added in sponsorships, merchandising and creating a fan base. “But first, one has to develop the sport.”
Thus, in China, the club had sports management firm Infront Sports & Media broker an agreement with football’s local administrators in January; Chelsea will not only play China’s national team on a regular basis, it will hold fitness and conditioning camps for players, provide medical treatment, help in their match preparation, creating game strategy and talent scouting, and finally, offer specialist coaching for goalkeepers, defenders and strikers.
“We are yet to develop our India strategy,” Kenyon said. “We have been working with the Asian Football Confederation for the past two years on their Vision Asia project (to develop the sport in the continent)... We want to find out about its Vision India project.”
Kenyon admits he has tough days ahead in India. For any sport to be successful, he says the national team has to be successful, like “your cricket team”. In football, the country is ranked 145, and boasts of no iconic players such as China’s Zheng Zhi, Dong Fangzhou or Sun Jihai, who play in the fancied English Premier League.
The nearest an Indian came to that level was national skipper Baichung Bhutia, who played for second division’s Bury Football Club for a season a few years ago. And though Kenyon insists “in sports, you have to have professionals”, it’s a concept alien to India. He hopes to change all that, and will begin with raising the game at the grassroots, through camps in schools and youth clubs, such as the ones that dot West Bengal, a football-crazy state. The club is not ready to schedule a time frame. “This is just a fact- finding mission, my visit is really the kick-off,” he said.