Zinedine Zidane. Photo: AFP
Zinedine Zidane. Photo: AFP

The FIFA World Cup is the mecca of building brands and networking

The 2018 FIFA World Cup, starting mid-June, will definitely be a big draw for corporate India

Though I don’t say this often, I’ve grown up playing and watching football. I went to Campion School in Mumbai, and I still remember that as a first grader I enjoyed playing football after school every day. A ritual that continued till I was in class X. Football has always been my first love. Growing up, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham were my idols. I had their posters, cards and newspaper cuttings plastered all over my room. I didn’t have aspirations of joining the sport professionally because back then the sport was not so organized, and, hence, not lucrative. But I continued to follow the sport, and have been to a lot of Premier League matches during my trips to the UK. Last year, in fact, I attended the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Juventus. That’s when I realized things are changing for the sport.

While attending the Champions League final, I had the opportunity of meeting the top leadership from sportswear brands such as Adidas and Under Armour, and some broadcasting officials. And even though we were all there for the love of the game, we ended up making business contacts.

Most of these sporting events typically have a welcome reception at the hotel, a pre-match entertainment itinerary and post-match drinks and dinner, and that’s where you meet people, discuss the match and eventually become part of the conversation. I believe people are a lot more relaxed in such surroundings and drop their guard more readily at such events. Since the atmosphere is so friendly, it’s easier to have a business conversation, as opposed to a meeting in an office boardroom in a suit and tie. So, a lot of business deals come out of these gatherings. The forthcoming 2018 Fifa World Cup is definitely a big draw for corporate India. I know of so many brands, friends and celebrities who are planning to attend it.

In fact, with many companies now owning sports teams, such events become even more relevant.

Diego Maradona. Photo: AFP
Diego Maradona. Photo: AFP

For example, Tata Steel purchased the Jamshedpur franchise to compete in the Indian Super League. It’s a stepping stone for them and I’m sure they have a larger appetite. The more they travel internationally and see the matches and activations that happen around the tournament, the more they will take up opportunities to collaborate and create short formats in India. It’s a creative business at the end of the day, and international sporting events always sow the seed of interesting formats in various parts of the world. Cricket will always be cricket but there are as many possibilities for successful leagues and icons in other sports in the country.

Indians are hungry for sporting action. Today, you see children running around in Manchester United and Chelsea jerseys but the day will come when they will be seen wearing ISL team jerseys. Brands understand that association with cricketers comes for a huge price, while a similar association with a football player will not attract the huge fee that a cricketer commands. An event like the Fifa World Cup fuels even more interest in football, which is good news for the sport.

Another advantage that Indian businesses have is that India is a country where everyone wants to do business. Business leaders who attend such sporting events are likely to meet businessmen from other countries with similar interests and get to network.

My golden rule in networking is, speak less and listen more. You cannot always be making a pitch, but such events do present an opportunity to get a meeting at a later date. At the same time, you also have a shot at strengthening existing relationships with brands—or even approaching business leaders.

Bunty Sajdeh is the CEO of Cornerstone Sport and Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.

As told to Sandipan Dalal

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