Top English Premier League side Liverpool F.C. (LFC) has introduced a coaching academy in India in conjunction with the DSK Shivajians F.C. of Pune in Maharashtra to develop Indian football players up to the age of 18. The LFC International Football Academy DSK, scheduled to open in January, will comprise a residential complex with full-size pitches, practice areas, classrooms, changing rooms, gymnasium, canteen, lecture theatre and medical facilities, according to reports in Indian and British media. LFC coaches will be involved in the academy to provide technical expertise.
“This is the first time an English top-flight club has partnered with an Indian team to help them bring through local talent,” said Billy Hogan, LFC's chief commercial officer. “We have millions of fans in India so we are very excited to be working with DSK Shivajians FC and being part of the game's development in the country.”
Shirish Kulkarni, the executive director of DSK Group, which owns the Shivajians club, said of the historic partnership: "This is a strategic move for us… which will give aspiring young [Indian] footballers the opportunity to be coached by one of the world's most famous football clubs.” Kulkarni added: “I am a footballer at heart and Liverpool has always been my favorite club…. I am very confident that this academy will go a long way in placing India strongly on the national and international professional football map.”
The partnership also underscores the huge popularity that English soccer clubs enjoy in India. Indeed, millions of Indian people who have never been to Britain are passionately devoted to UK-based football teams, including LFC. Although rival Manchester United F.C. may be better known, there are some indications that LFC may actually enjoy an even bigger international fan base than the Red Devils.
Four years ago, LFC’s then-managing director Christian Purslow boldly declared that “we are world’s most popular club.” “We have seen many measures that suggest we may be the most popular football club in the world,” Purslow stated, according to the Echo. “For example, our website has more clicks every day than any other football website in the world… In Asia, in Africa, in the Middle East there are literally hundreds of thousands of fans of this football club.” Purslow added: “By having more fans, more interest in our football club, driving more commercial value to our football club, we can plough that back into the future health of our team on the pitch.”
Naturally, social media has played a huge role in generating a global fan base for English clubs, like LFC. The Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported that LFC has aggressively pursued a strategy to connect with its growing field of supporters in Asia and Australia – where an increasing numbers of corporate sponsors are also based. LCF’s current managing director Ian Ayre told AFR that the club’s Twitter account – which now has more than 2 million followers -- is available in sixteen languages. “In Australia, you will have a local Twitter feed that obviously is in English and contains a mixture of news from Liverpool but also information about what is going on with the supporters’ club in Sydney, Melbourne or Perth, for example,” Ayre said. “The only way and the best way is to get local people involved in the creation of that content. In Indonesia, for example, we have employed local people to work with us so what you get is a broad mixture of content.”
As a result, LFC’s website enjoys the highest traffic of any Premier League side – and it plans to launch as Chinese website later this year. “The longer-term strategy is [we] engage with those people [in East Asia and Australasia] and then draw them into a richer relationship and then down the track they want more access to product, be it video or digital content or merchandise,” Ayre added.
Paul Rogers, the head of international digital development at LFC, said in SportsProMedia.com, his club tweets in more languages than any other club in the world and has seven more Twitter accounts than Barcelona and eight more than any other club in England. “Every day, fans around the world can read tweets from the club in English, Arabic, Spanish, French, Indonesia, Malaysian, Thai, Portuguese and Turkish,” he wrote. "Think global, act local – entertain, expand and, most importantly, engage."
Rogers noted, for example that, according to most metrics available, Liverpool has millions of fans in Indonesia, despite the fact that Indonesian supporters don’t even appear on the top ten countries who visit the official site. “Thailand, another country with millions of Liverpool fans, also fell outside the top 10,” he indicated.
According to marketing firm Sport & Markt, LFC has about 14 million fans in Thailand (roughly equal to Manchester United), with about 16 million in Indonesia, and 60 million in China. Globally, LFC has at least 240 million fans (or about four times the whole population of the United Kingdom).
Jonathan Kane, director of international business development for LFC, told The Nation in Bangkok, that Asia forms the core of the team’s growth strategy, a plan that includes increasing income from television and other media broadcast licenses, advertising and sponsorships, and match-day tickets. "Rapid economic growth in Asia has created greater opportunities for the club to strengthen cooperation and [it has] drawn strategies to promote the team and business here. The club foresees a lot of Asia businesses that could cooperate with the team in order to create mutual benefit for both sides," Kane said.
"We have been in Asia for a long time. As TV penetration has reached more markets, TV audiences have grown quite rapidly in this region. The digital network, including TV, Internet and social media, has [helped] us to engage with more fans more easily. The Asian economy has also grown at a rapid race. Asian brands are looking for international expansion and they have seen English Premier League as a natural way to grow their brands."
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.