Andrew Buncombe: Cricket may meet its match if Premier League passion grows

It has always been recognised that because of India's intense, obsessive love of cricket – a passion that sees dusty strips of land across the country packed with children playing with homemade bats and balls – other sports have suffered. Even hockey, which once made a claim to be the country's national sport and at which India has enjoyed considerable Olympic success over the years, has never really come close.

But could that all change if Blackburn Rovers are indeed sold to Venky's, the pharmaceutical and poultry giant located in the central Indian city of Pune? Could India, with an economy growing at more than 8 per cent and with a swelling middle class that has money to burn, represent a vast and largely untapped market for the Premier League? What might this mean for football in India?

The Premier League recognised some time ago the potential of the subcontinent. Last year, Manchester United sealed a five-year sponsorship deal worth £12m with the Indian mobile giant Bharti Airtel. Investment experts at the club commissioned research that found United may have more than 20 million supporters in the country and officials have sought to expand on this by opening football academies in the coastal state of Goa and several official bars, one being in Delhi's satellite town, Gurgaon.

Arsenal have done something similar, while Liverpool have opened refereeing and training courses. Even Sheffield United and Leicester City have forged links with several Indian teams, including those in the state of West Bengal, which along with Kerala, Goa and the north-eastern states has been one of the places where football has traditionally been popular in India. Bayern Munich have also talked of opening an academy in West Bengal.

"India is perhaps one of the biggest markets for the Premiership clubs. There is immense popularity, and surprisingly, the awareness about these clubs is increasing – not just through the players, but the larger aura surrounding them, the history, the immediate past and everything else," says the Mumbai-based sports writer and analyst Venkat Ananth. "Last year, during one of my discussions with the Manchester United communications director, Phillip Townsend, he stressed the importance of tapping the Indian market quickly."

Experts say the growing popularity is linked not only to a new consumer class, which feasted on this year's World Cup, but also the slowly changing fortunes of the national team. Led by charismatic captain Baichung Bhutia and British manager Bob Houghton, India have, for the first time in some while, qualified for the finals of next year's Asia Cup. A good performance there would only boost football's popularity and the market's potential. Cricket might finally have some competition.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law