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We hope Argentinian clubs and Messi will play in India before World Cup 2026: Leandro Petersen

As Argentina gets ready to play their semi-final at the Fifa World Cup, Leandro Petersen, commercial and marketing manager of Argentine Football Association, spoke to Forbes India about partnering with Indian brands and starting training programmes in India

Published: Dec 13, 2022 01:08:25 PM IST
Updated: Dec 13, 2022 06:49:56 PM IST

We hope Argentinian clubs and Messi will play in India before World Cup 2026: Leandro PetersenLeandro Petersen, Commercial and marketing manager of Argentine Football Association

Q. Why is the Argentine Football Association (AFA) focusing on India?
We started the international expansion of the AFA brand five years ago. Our first identified market was China, where we started AFA marketing activities in 2017, and by 2022 we were able to consistently grow to the current number of eight active regional sponsorships, which generate almost $10 million a year. During World Cup 2018, we identified India as the following step in our expansion. Analysis and market studies showed that the Indian football market represented 42 percent of its total sports market, and that by 2027 was likely to grow five times to reach $100 billion. A decision was taken by 2020, and AFA’s focus is now on India in terms of marketing and commercial opportunities.

Our approach to Indian brands who want to work with AFA is with the objective of expanding our brand value in India, and facilitating the market penetration of Indian brands in foreign countries. AFA is the number one association in Fifa with regards to sponsorships, with more than 30 international brands in diverse territories and categories, and it is our responsibility to continue along those lines. We feel very comfortable with our strategy in India, and working in two phases. First, on the marketing side, with AFA social media being directed towards the Indian market and consumers, and second, implementing a commercial strategy with them.

Q. What is the fan base of Argentinian football in India?
There isn’t an exact number of followers, but a rough analysis shows that in a population of 1.3 billion, almost 550 million are football-driven. Rough estimates show that AFA has a fan base of around 250 million, including India and Bangladesh. They enjoy watching the Argentina national team play every time, no matter what the time and place; 30,000 to 40,000 Indian families and friends watch and celebrate the game together.

We believe in the popularity that our great football players have built over the past 40 years, starting with Diego Maradona, and in the last 20 years with Lionel Messi. Having these football legends on our side and having represented our national team are key elements that help in the globalisation of Argentinian football. Our hope is that the national team and Argentinian clubs will be playing in India before the next World Cup in 2026, and Messi and our greatest superstars will play there, as Maradona once did.

Q. Tell us about your recent partnership with Amul.
We have a strategic cooperation partnership with Amul, which is one of the top Indian companies, and is the number one milk brand globally. Our common objective is for AFA to reach every corner of India and be associated with the core values of Amul, which is a traditional Indian brand, with countrywide coverage and is based on cooperation for the good of the community. It is a very important first step for AFA’s strategic expansion: Not only marketing-wise, where Amul will reach fans with products having the national team colours and images of players on every stand across supermarkets, but also where aligning with the company’s values are concerned.

Other Indian companies like Tata Consumer, Byju’s and Lulu Group are also interested in working with us in the near future. We are open to more diverse Indian brands that are in the search of associating with AFA.

Also read: Dreaming big leagues: Can European elite clubs change grassroots football in India?

Q. Any plans of opening AFA academies in India?
Our plans for India are divided into two main stages. One is related to the commercial and marketing aspects. The second is the sporting objective, which is also very important for AFA.  Argentina is the third country in the world with the most players exported abroad, for a population of only 45 million (almost 30 times smaller than India). And we are looking for ways to transfer our knowledge and passion for football with the introduction of Argentinian football schools in India.

We have a massive player development programme with the Argentina football style and we plan to open several football schools next year. But, as with all starting programmes, we are trying to identify a suitable local partner and a joint vision of strategic development. For example, in China we received a number of selected players to participate in the development programmes, where they received high-quality training in competitive football in Argentina. We look forward to replicating the same with Indian football players and professional clubs.

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