Pune FC haven't won an I-League but by organising matches under lights, assiduously trying to build a fan base through events at cafes and elsewhere and uploading highlights of their matches on YouTube, they have shown that while being champions helps, it isn't the only way to build a relationship with their fans.
HT spoke to Chirag Tanna, head of operations, Pune FC, to get an idea of how this four-year-old club runs. Excerpts:
Footballs clubs the world over lose money. Is there any other aspect that makes it even more difficult running one in India?
There is a big difference between the financials of Indian football clubs and football clubs from world over. Although a lot of football clubs world over lose money, they still generate revenue. On the other hand, most Indian clubs do not make any money. The entire commercial and broadcasting rights of the I-League are coupled with that of the national team and sold by the AIFF. Although these rights are sold for a significant amount of money, clubs do not receive a share. Broadcasting and commercial rights of the national team should be sold separately from that of the I-League. The money received from the sale of the commercial rights of the I-League should be distributed among I-League clubs.
Is it a fair comment to say that developing a community connect in the way major football clubs do is not common in India? Does Pune FC do anything to buck the trend?
No football club can survive without fans. When Mahindra United and JCT shut their football teams, one of the reasons given were the lack of fans turning up for the games and that is a very important point that all football clubs should remember. In India, a lot of clubs spend all their money on their I-League squad and not much on community development or fan development. I do not feel that is the best way to run a football club.
At Pune FC, we conduct various fan and community development activities throughout the year. There is a separate budget for the senior team, youth development, fan development, community development and marketing activities.
Everybody in Indian football is talking about clubs being a commercial entity. Does PFC have a roadmap of how to go about it?
When you talk about Indian football clubs being a commercial entity, it puts the onus on the clubs to generate revenue. Corporates can no longer write off expenses of running the football team as CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activity.
In order to be commercially viable, it is important to increase revenues and curtail expenses and while doing that, you have to ensure that the team is still competitive.
At Pune FC, we try to generate as much revenue as possible via ticketing, merchandising and sponsorship.
We focus on youth development as we do feel that a club with a good youth system helps reduce your wage bill considerably.
With two top clubs gone in 15 months, is Indian football a bleak house?
Mahindra United and JCT shutting down have made everyone sit up and take notice. I do feel that Indian football is going through a transitional phase.
With IMG-Reliance purchasing the commercial rights of Indian football we expect there to be positive changes in the way the league is marketed. I do feel that things will improve soon.