FIFA U-17 an opportunity to increase football participation: Adidas

FIFA U-17 an opportunity to increase football participation: Adidas- InsideSport

Adidas has been an integral associate of world football.  The FIFA Under-17 World Cup Finals in India is a rare opportunity for the global sports footwear and apparel giant.

Adidas India, committed to the cause of football in more than one ways, is availing the opportunity to celebrate the joy of the World Cup and the sport. A video campaign launched by Adidas is already capturing the imagination of the nation. There have been close to three lakh youtube views in less than 48 hours of the launch of the video. The film, conceptualised and created by Cheil W W India, captures the essence of Indian football.

Adidas is not targeting immediate commercial gains from the opportunity. The aim is persuade the young generation to take to football. That is the essence of the video. That is what the brand for now will look at as a return on its investment on the World Cup. In an exclusive conversation with, Hrishikesh Shende, Adidas India Director, Football Business, opened up about brands vision and goals around the sport in the country.  Here are the excerpts:

InsideSport: The video captures the essence of India, but not the grandeur of a World Cup. What has been the insight into creating this?

Hrishikesh Shende: Whether a player is playing in professional football at the highest level or in their local club, whenever they score a goal the feel is the same. It’s the same high. So we took that brief. We wanted to celebrate football across all levels. So whether you are playing in your building apartment, or a junior team, or your school team, or the State team or the national team, the intensity and the seriousness of the game doesn’t change.

From the video perspective we wanted to capture various fields and arenas where the grass root football is played from the maidans of Kolkata, Mumbai to the streets of Delhi, to the places like peripheries in Goa. We wanted to capture all the special places and iconic locations where football is cultivated in real sense among these youngsters.

IS: You have not touched the targeted market and segments from the Adidas market perspective?

HS: If you see the locations these are not remote locations at all. These are key markets like Goa, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata. These are all major markets for us from a football perspective. It’s not like as much as we would have liked to. We have not gone to say North-East or down South like Kerala. It’s not that we won’t have liked to go to those kind of locations as well, but there are certain constraints from the resource perspective what we had to respect. That’s the reason we had to prioritise and we focused energies on the four of the six host cities.

Under-17 World Cup is purely the background for that. The basic idea is what will be happening in India over the next three-four weeks with the World Cup, we wanted to use the opportunity to actually kick start a football revolution in the country.

The whole idea is to touch the youngsters at the emotional level, at a deeper level. So that when they watch the film, they really feel come on let’s play football. This film is not about the under-17 team players, it’s not about the national team players. It is about the footballers across the country.

The 47-second film has really been a big hit. There have been more than 1.3 lakh views within a day after the film was released on YouTube on Tuesday, October 3.

IS: Adidas at the global level has a partnership with FIFA. In India the brand has been an active associate of Mission XI Million. How important does a global football event coming to India becomes for you as a brand?

HS: To celebrate football has been the vision of our overall Under-17 World Cup partnership. We have partnered with the Mission XI Million project (the dream project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making football the sport of choice in India). We have taken out technical experts to some of the key cities and conducted master clinics with these kids. While Mission XI Million is about come and participate in this beautiful game, we actually wanted to take it up several levels saying that definitely come and participate and while you are there we will help you improve your game.

The film actually complements everything we have done in Indian football and in grass roots football in particular. It definitely helps the brand. I am not denying that. But at the end of the day, it is about the bigger message that come and play football. It doesn’t matter what boots you are wearing. What is more important is to get out and play.

IS: The Under-17 World Cup will have a long lasting impact on the Indian football eco-system. Any sport growing in India is a commercial gain for Adidas. How do you look at this mega event from purely business perspective?

HS: As a brand our objective like any other business is to grow. Having said that we have a bigger objective here to increase key participation in the sport across all levels. One of the key challenges in India we see in sports in general, cricket is an exception, that access to facilities is quite challenging. There is not enough infrastructure, there is not enough coaching, there is not enough equipment available. Every sport in India suffers from this deficiency. We are hoping that through the under-17 World Cup the scenario in football changes for good.

IS: From a purely commercial perspective, how important an event this under-17 World Cup becomes for you? What kind of ROIs will you be looking at?

HS: If you look at this from business perspective, we are not looking at direct major commercial gains. We would be happy in terms of ROIs if the World Cup help football participation grow in India say by 20 per cent. We know it is an under-17 World Cup. This not THE FIFA WORLD CUP. The main world cup is where Adidas stands to benefit globally from jerseys, from footballs and what have you there.

At an under-17 level that’s not a commercial opportunity. But the opportunity and ROIs as I said if the participation increased by 20-25% we would have achieved the value for our money. If we are succeeding in increasing that  participation then we have done our job well. The ROIs here are not purely measurable here in monetary terms, because we are not going to sell the maximum amount of our World Cup jerseys. We are not going to sell the World Cup balls. Although we have the (Under-17) World Cup specific merchandise available in our select retail outlets in all cities, but it is a very, very small commercial opportunity. That is not the ROI for us.

IS: Can we safely say this is more of a marketing opportunity than a sales opportunity?

HS: I think it is a call-driven, contextual message. It is not even a marketing opportunities. For example, it is not like we have featured super stars in the film, or we have featured the Under-17 World Cup players or our ISL and India stars in the film. It is really players from our grass roots programmes and projects that we have taken for the film. In fact this an opportunity to celebrate grass roots football in India and that is also reflecting in our film. It is just that we want to avail this opportunity to get youngsters in India to get out and play football. We could have easily used some of our Indian footballers or our global stars for marketing mileage, but we didn’t.

We wanted to say it through the grass root footballers in India, who go through the hardships and challenges at day to day basis. To deal with the fear they have that if they have a career in football what happens after the school level? What happens after the club level? The apprehensions that exist in our society today. This is the time to create that football revolution in the country. I will say this is more of a cause-related opportunity than a marketing opportunity.

IS: Your FIFA Under-17 campaign has had a great start. There are almost three lakh views in just two days’ time. What is next on the cards?

HS: We will continue to invest in India football. We have got a partnership with Bayern Munich. We have been running an inter-school competition in association with them for the past four years. The next edition is scheduled for November. We will be taking the select kids out of that programme for an exposure trip to Munich and play in the Allianz Arena. That is a fantastic international opportunity we are creating for youngsters in India. We have partnered with the Reliance  Foundation Youth Sports.

We have got Adidas Uprising where football is a massive sport.  We have invested heavily into football and we will continue to invest more heavily after the Under-17 World Cup. Grassroots football is clearly our focus.

IS: Any other Adidas initiative around Under-17 World Cup?

HS: We have already partnered with Mission XI Million. We have got our retail pack which is focused on the under-17 World Cup to get consumer into the awe of the spirit of things. We have got a ticket promotion as well. That’s more of a commercial initiative where a consumer shopping at an Adidas store stands a chance to win two tickets to watch an Under-17 World Cup game.

We have also got the flag-bearers accreditation for twelve kids from the each host city. The selected kids will walk out on the field with FIFA ‘fail play flag’ in hand before every match. These 72 kids are scouted while we were conducting the Master Clinic as part of the Mission XI Million drive. Money can’t buy the experience these kids will get.