In cricket-crazy India, football makers are suddenly saying, “Waka Waka.”
And why not? Footballs are selling like hot cakes this year — which manufacturing firms say are part of a trend coinciding with the world’s greatest football spectacle, the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
What’s more, India, aided by new machines that shift away from old hand-crafted balls, could also be turning stronger in football exports, in which it has closed the edge with China.
Three Indian firms — Cosco, Nivia and Mayor — are among the 90 firms qualified worldwide under FIFA’s stringent manufacturing standards for footballs, but exports account for only 10 per cent of India’s export of “inflatable balls” that find themselves inside branded shells.
Pakistan, with a sprawling football industry at Sialkot, is a favourite with labels such as Nike, Puma and Adidas, industry officials said.
Within India, footballs are traditionally sold in niche markets such as West Bengal, Goa, Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, while export destinations include the UK, US, Australia.
Delhi-based Cosco India Ltd, which is a publicly listed company, is producing 2,500 balls per day against 1,500 balls per day, and reports a 15 to 20 per cent year-on-year jump in sales.
Inflatable balls accounted for 29 per cent of sports good exports and accounted for Rs. 170 crore exports in 2008-09—for which the latest data is available — little changed from Rs. 169.6 crore in the previous year.
“In the World Cup year, demand goes up by 30 to 40 per cent,” Rajesh Kharbanda, joint managing director at Nivia, told Hindustan Times. “And once the game season gets over, this fashion is expected to stay. Annual growth settles at 10 to 15 per cent, he added.
India ranks a poor 133 among 202 nations in FIFA rankings, but the game’s growing popularity can be seen in the fee for broadcast rights for the World Cup which has surged to $30 million this year from $9 million in the previous cup.
Industry officials are also encouraged by the advent of mechanised stitching of footballs, which were earlier rejected in export markets because they were hand-stitched. Thanks to capital investments, India is now able to compete with China.
“Obviously this is a much needed change because there is less cheap labour available for stitching the football as this a hard job to perform. A worker can stitch just five balls per day on an average. He can earn more as a casual labourer,” said Pankaj Jain, Director, Cosco India.
A shortage of polyurethane needed to make high-end footballs is hitting exports, Jain said. “It is imported from Korea and Japan, where we pay 30 per cent duty, including customs duty and excise duty.” he said.
Rakesh Mahajan, a senior official at the All India Sports Goods Manufacturer Federation, said, “We can see exponential growth if councils will assist us in opening warehouses in different countries under MAI (Market Access Initiatives) scheme”.