FIFA World Cup 2018: India’s Record Viewership And Takeaways

A Brazil fan heads the ball in Kolkata - Sakshi Post

Anvesh Reddy

In a country powered by cricket-frenzy fans, football as a sport is a rare bird. In a country that gave birth to the 'God of Cricket' Sachin Tendulkar, football is uncommon. In a country that produced one of the world's fittest sportsmen in Virat Kohli, football is uncommon in most places. In a country where its finest footballer had to plead for recognition and audiences, football is not a religion. Wait, not any more!

A record 154 million Indians have watched the group stage matches of the recently concluded FIFA World Cup 2018. Thanks to India's digital stamina of 337 million smartphones, over 30 million of them watched the four-early global spectacle over live streams on handheld devices. And by the end of the World Cup Finals, the number of live streams reached an astounding 70 million, which is equivalent to Indian Premier League's (IPL) 202 million Hotstar viewership.

In view of India's non-participation in the World's most viewed global competition, the meteoric rise in football viewership is a clear sign of a massive enthusiasm for the sport. In what may be elucidated as a windfall development, 47 per cent of the Indian viewers are women. Given India's gender-gap in sports, this reflects the deep loopholes in the country's talent management.

In another case of debunking myths over India's football landscape, cities like Ahmedabad and Lucknow recorded high viewership, matching traditionally loyal footballing cities like Kolkata, Kochi, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Bengaluru and New Delhi. The Russia World Cup, however, had a big positive in the form of friendly match timings--most group stage match matches were held at prime Indian hours, 5:30 pm and 8:30 pm IST, while the knockout stages kicked off at 8:30 pm and 11:30 pm.

Favourable match timings were coupled with a great extent of pre-promotional euphoria by the official broadcaster--Meri Doosri Country and #ScreamLoud campaigns sunk in India's youth.

It has to be noted that India already is a major audience to English Premier League (EPL) or La Liga (Spanish first division), with massive fan clubs to Manchester United, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barcelona and others. In 2017, La Liga organisers decided to alter the match timings, to cash in on the Asian audiences. But, it is India's domestic football, that has the capacity to turn the tides away from cricket.

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