India may be cricket country, but there’s no way it is letting the world’s biggest soccer season just pass by.
As FIFA World Cup 2018 kicks off on Thursday (June 14 ) in Russia, traditional fans in states like Kerala in the south and West Bengal in the east have already worked up a frenzy, painting homes and vehicles in the colours of their favourite teams, forming clubs, and even marking territory—village by village.
But football fever has spread nation-wide by now.
Across India, football fans have sorted out their schedules according to the month-long event, having applied for leave, chosen their lucky charms, and set dates with family and friends to watch matches.
Up to 85% of Indians surveyed by Paris-based research firm Ipsos on June 11 claimed to be watching football. Of these, 31% call themselves passionate football followers, 28% follow football only for their favourite teams and league. Some 26% are occasional watchers. The 27-country survey involved 500 Indians aged 16 to 64 years.
In fact, Indians were more enthusiastic than most others. Five in ten (51%) Indians said they will miss work and school to watch this World Cup—the highest percentage globally. Over 6o% said they’ll splurge on the FIFA World Cup-themed products; only the Chinese and the Malaysians were ahead on this.
Not surprisingly, Indians are also the most superstitious: six in 10 (63%) surveyed said they will keep a good-luck charm when the matches are on. In the US, the figure was 54%.
All this despite the fact that the Indian football team isn’t part of the 32-team tournament. But make no mistakes, they have chosen their favourite teams. Brazil has the biggest chunk of Indians (22%) rooting for it, followed by Argentina (14%), and Germany (13%), to win the World Cup this year. Globally, Germany is the top pick, according to the survey.
At 60%, television remains the favourite platform to watch matches among Indians, though some 40% will watch them online on mobile phones and other gadgets. This may not be surprising since India is the world’s second-largest smartphone market.
Over the past few years, there has been a strong increase in the interest levels for football in India. On-ground sponsorships for football leagues were up significantly in 2017 at Rs179 crore, according to a March report by ESP Properties, part of advertising firm GroupM and media company SportzPower. This has, in fact, made football India’s second-biggest sport by participation and attendance.