East Bengal's official Facebook page has more than 4 lakh likes. That's a staggering statistic considering the poor turnouts in even their home matches of the I-League. Only three in Asia had more in the list of the top 100 clubs as released by futebolfinance.com last April.
All three - Persib Bandung (2 million+), Sriwijaya FC (6.4 lakh+), Persija Jakarta (3.9 lakh+) - are from Indonesia. East Bengal's page had more than 3.5 lakh back then. On Thursday, the number had swelled over 4.66 lakh.
East Bengal's page is handled by the company that bankrolls the football team. "Facebook has great potential to reach out to fans and attract new ones. That is why we regularly update our page and try to make it as interactive as possible," said a representative of the team that handles the page. Other pages related to Indian football also has sizeable membership. Twitter too has accounts of Indian clubs and others dedicated to domestic football. The numbers here are smaller possibly because Indians still use Twitter less.
How it started
Following domestic football through social media started in 2007 on Orkut when a community named 'Indian football fans' was formed to discuss everything and anything related to the sport in India.
Membership kept increasing and that laid the foundation for more such communities. As Indians shifted from Orkut to Facebook, the platform for following Indian football also changed but the passion only increased. Archrivals Mohun Bagan (14000 + likes) and some older clubs haven't gone the East Bengal way but newbies such as Pune FC (30000+), Shillong Lajong (10000+) and United Sikkim (3000+) are using social media very seriously.
The I-League and other domestic tournaments continue to struggle to get fans to the stadiums. On the social media, the opposite is true.