MANY of you will know that the club has been busy doing some pioneering work out in India over the last 12 months, working in tandem with Youth Football International to bring football coaching and positive messages to young people in the sub-continent.
The project, driven by Albion’s sales and marketing director, Adrian Wright, got off the ground in Delhi this time last year but we are looking to widen our appeal in India and, as a consequence, last month we found ourselves in Mumbai, a city with an estimated population of 21million.
“It was a great opportunity to take the work we are doing to Mumbai because there was a big Barclays Premier League Live event there in the middle of December. The premise of that was basically to increase the global appeal of the Premier League in new markets overseas.
“There was something similar in Johannesburg a couple of years ago, so this time it went to Mumbai as India is a growing audience were the TV audience has more than doubled over the course of the last two years so the appetite is clearly growing. There were around 36,000 visitors over the two days and when we were there, Liverpool played Manchester United and on the big screens in the fan park, there were about 17,000 people watching.”
While fan engagement is one element of Albion’s Indian odyssey – and we’ve captured a whole host of data from the BPL Live event – the other part is to actually get involved at community level and make our mark in a more lasting way.
“After the event, some of the Foundation coaches stayed on to work with Youth Football International, our partners in India, and we’ve worked with them in Delhi in our previous visits to India.
“They want to bring what they’ve done for three years in Delhi to Mumbai - they’ve set up a youth league with around 1,700 kids in Delhi and they want to do likewise in Mumbai. They’re doing the groundwork now, looking to kick it all off next September.
“They work alongside the non-government organisations, notably the Salaam Bombay Foundation, and they go into the slum areas. It’s all community based and their primary target at present is getting kids away from smoking because that’s endemic there because 5,500 kids from five to fifteen take up smoking each day.
“Some of the things they have to contend with are frightening but they are trying to get out good messages about health and fitness and trying to live properly, which is where the tie-in with football comes in.
“So YFI are going in there and we’re helping give them some leverage simply by virtue of the fact we are a Premier League club and the cachet that that brings. Intuit gave us a thousand Albion t-shirts to give out which we left there, just to promote that. I had an email just before Christmas from a 19 year old who plays for Mumbai FC to tell me the shirts are all over the city and that Albion is a little more famous there now”.
In a land where cricket holds sway and football is only just beginning to make its presence felt on the domestic scene, it requires innovative thinking to make a splash and, as Adrian explains, we’ve got plenty of that.
“We had the inflatable 1v1 pitch there at the BPL Live event and that was very popular, and we intend to take that out and about in the communities to let people use, so we’ve left that in India for YFI to make use of.
“The perception in India is you need a huge space, lush green grass, neat markings and goalposts to play the game, when really, you don’t. We want to get the kids playing the game as they would cricket, just in a makeshift way, just to get interested in it”.
So, having taken a presence in a second major city, what next for the Albion?
“We are looking to have a footprint in as many major cities as we can so we’ve been in Delhi, now Mumbai and next year we’ll be looking at the north-eastern part of the country in February or March to do something similar.
“We don’t want it to be a one hit wonder, we want to spread the net across the country and really establish a presence. The Club is funding it, it’s a part of the world that we want to break into and in due course, we are looking at converting those kids into fans."