LALIGA's India game plan: Using cricket to expand football horizon

Also through notable collaborations, including strategic tie-ups with local football institutions and clubs, educational institutions, and media outlets, LALIGA aims to help football grow in India and be a pivotal catalyst in this change

Updated: Dec 13, 2023 03:04:38 PM UTC
In 2019, LALIGA roped in cricket captain Rohit Sharma as the first Indian ambassador of the league.

Adaptability, Innovation and Market Intelligence: Our presence and operations in India can be summed up in these three words. With a presence in over 40 countries across the globe through our delegates network, LALIGA's popularity is a product of the league's attractiveness to pull in the best talent football has to offer and the unique heritage its clubs possess from a Spanish pedigree. With each club distinctively setting itself apart from another through nuances in geography, dialect, economic situation, and character, so too is the situation concerning LALIGA's operations in our delegate countries. When compared across a spectrum, although learnings across our operations assist us in scale, the distinct understanding of 'nuances' sets each country apart—especially India.

With a strategic interest in India within our vast international expansion, LALIGA arrived in the diverse nation in 2017, and we were quick to understand the idiosyncrasies this nation operated in. Having witnessed massive growth during our time in India, our existing market intelligence gave us the competitive advantage to make the right decision at the most optimal time. Utilising a 'glocal' strategy, the attempt was to look towards supreme customisation of the LALIGA product to cater to Indian fans as we sought to sustain conversations with existing fans and build new audiences for growth.

Understanding the uniqueness of India—a country that does not consider football the main sport—was a challenge and an opportunity to innovate for LALIGA. Looking towards the 'religion' aspect of cricket, How can LALIGA, a football league, tap into the pull of the sport of cricket? How can we adapt ourselves to solve India's nuances?

With a strategy that revolved around the understanding that a fan can consume multiple sports, we sought to create a synergy between football and cricket as one way to cater to Indian fans, leveraging the immense popularity and fervour for cricket. The strategy to pioneer the introduction of the beautiful game of football to Indian fans was to foster a culture of sports diversity, showcasing that cricket and football can coexist harmoniously in the Indian sporting landscape.

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Through this understanding, we looked to attempt a strategy never initiated or replicated in LALIGA—to nominate a brand ambassador from a sport other than football. By examining brand similarities, player trajectory, and the game of cricket, we partnered with now Indian captain Rohit Sharma early on to enhance and engage with the potential football base within cricket. Made easier by Rohit's passion for the league, we attempted to build football in India through cricket.

Utilising numerous digital activities, announcements, physical events, and even experiential trips to Spain, Rohit brought us closer to a new audience not so familiar with football. Perfectly embodying our values, who we are, and who we want to be, this became a notable lever in our strategy. Be it his illustrious presence at our events or his candid conversations about his favourites in LALIGA, this partnership has helped amalgamate the Indian cricket fanbase with that of football.

With a keen focus on digital, we've tried strategically leveraging social media, broadcasters, streaming platforms, and Indian partners to engage and bridge the existing gap. By testing new models, like the Facebook partnership, to pivoting to attract a younger audience not necessarily related to football, our collaboration with Viacom18 has been instrumental in achieving great audience results. Through the broadcaster, LALIGA has been able to cater to Gen Z, while movement to Sports 18 & JioCinema has once again allowed us to be present on platforms that allow us to share our presence with the game of cricket. Witnessing a 100 percent increase in viewership numbers this year, the beauty of our current broadcaster allows us to be present to fans and allow them to watch their favourite LALIGA games without leaving the streaming platform.

These efforts have not only captivated existing football fans but have also piqued the curiosity of cricket enthusiasts. Additionally, by partnering with cricket-centric influencers and media partners through press trips, virtual calls, LALIGA TOOLKITs, and experiential events in India, we have been able to create a holistic 360-degree strategy that builds on a digital-first cricket synergy. Following the example of other sports properties, we want to continue developing bonds and relationships with domestic and international cricket properties. I firmly believe there is great potential for learning and growth if we can think and execute real and tangible joint strategies. The challenge is always taking action and turning ideas into tangible projects. In India, through our existing connection with Gujarat Titans, who CVC partners own, the possible synergies for both brands can be exciting.

Since we started our strategy in India almost six years ago, we have been able to grow digitally through our social assets by 2000 percent, from 300K to over 7 million followers, by enabling a content strategy that looks to engage through Indian-centric conversations concerning festivals, culture, regional collaborations like the MOU for football development with the government of West Bengal, and of course India's favourite religion—cricket.

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Moving forward in India, we hope to strengthen our business and grassroots development partnerships. Through notable collaborations, including strategic tie-ups with local football institutions and clubs (Sevilla – FC Bengaluru United, Atlético Madrid – Atlético Kolkata or Inter Kashi), educational institutions, and media outlets, LALIGA aims to help football grow in India and be a pivotal catalyst in this change. By building acutely from a business sense, the goal is to continue to build platforms for growth in India, like the LALIGA FOOTBALL SCHOOLS initiative, and partner with stakeholders across the sports business network to build in collaboration and achieve synergies together that help the beautiful game grow in this beautiful country.

Satisfied with the work carried out but also with a non-conformist spirit, we believe that our project in India has only just begun. We have a long journey ahead of us that we face with the same enthusiasm as the first day we arrived. And why not, one day, witness the next Indian star debut in what for many is the best league in the world: LALIGA EA SPORTS.

The writer is the head of the international department at LALIGA.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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