Football’s (Soccer’s) Potential in India

by Joaquín Rodriguez (SMBA ’16)

Last Wednesday Neel Shah, Business Director of Libero Sports, visited the SMBA ’16 cohort to discuss his career in sports business both in India and the United States. Libero Sports is a full service professional athlete representation and corporate consulting company that works in the football (soccer) industry. They have offices in Chicago, Tokyo and Delhi and are focused on the development of soccer in emerging markets.

Neel first talked to the students about his background as Director of Fan Development at Major League Soccer. In this role with MLS he was able to develop national grassroots programming and served as a liaison with MLS clubs’ supporters groups. After enjoying this experience he decided to move to India and focus on the monetization of Indian sports properties for Dentsu Sports India in an effort to improve soccer in this emerging market.

He explained the factors that make India a completely different market for business, citing as an example the over 300 million people under the age of 25 currently in the country. This is one of the things that make India such an interesting market in which to develop a sport. He explained some of the soccer leagues that are currently developed in India, such as the I-League, in which teams have a $2M budget and whose teams have more established history and culture.

Another league he discussed was the Indian Superleague, a grouping of teams with $12M budgets that are owned by Bollywood actors and celebrities. This league takes place for only two months and has yielded some eye-opening results, such as 426M viewers and an average attendance of 26,000 fans, thus making it the fourth most popular soccer league in the world in terms of average attendance.

He also talked about the different international teams that have gone to India in their summer tours, such as Manchester United, Celtic (Glasgow) and FC Barcelona. These teams see India as a great place to make an investment for the future and are not willing to let this opportunity pass by.

SMBA ’16 wishes to thank Neel Shah for coming by and opening the student’s eyes to an emerging market. He spoke of India as a sleeping giant, and the class was fortunate to learn about the opportunity that can exists for the right firms and sports that are well positioned when it awakens.