By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News
India remains an untapped market for English football clubs
Monday's opening of a Liverpool Football Club-backed soccer academy in the Indian city of Pune marks the latest chapter in the quest by Premier League teams to gain a foothold in one of the world's largest markets.
East Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the US, as well as more traditional countries such as Canada and Australia, have all been explored as clubs seek to maximise returns on their brands overseas.
But until recently India was seen as off-limits because of the huge popularity of cricket there.
However, a growing and increasingly-affluent middle class, the regular broadcasting of Premier League games, and an identification of English football with youth and glamour means the door is slowly opening.
Liverpool and Chelsea are looking at establishing academies with a revenue-earning aspect attached to them, while Arsenal and Manchester United have initiated talent hunt schemes in India.
Tottenham Hotspur has also identified India as one of its targets for international development and has met major Indian firms with a view to forming partnerships. And Indian children have trained at Everton Football Club.
The UK's Deputy High Commissioner in Mumbai, Vicki Treadell, told the BBC at a meeting of the Business India Forum that there were many opportunities for British firms across the sport and luxury brand industry fields, including for football clubs.
WHY INDIA FOR ENGLISH CLUBS?
Population of 1.15bn
Underlying interest in football/Premier League
Untapped commercial opportunities
Wealthy target audience in Indian middle class
Football identified with youth - there are 325m Indians aged 20 - 35
Chance to influence/improve local football
Opportunity for corporate social responsibility (CSR) input
"These are markets with huge growth potential and many opportunities for UK and Indian firms to work together," she said.
Liverpool FC is currently looking to refinance its large loans, but that has not stopped its Indian venture.
The Anfield club announced at the turn of the year its ambition to help set up a football development centre at Pune, south of Mumbai, the first of its kind in India.
In February Ian Ayre, the commercial director of Liverpool, went to India to meet Vishwjeet Kadam, the host of the proposed development centre and driving force behind football in Pune.
The club will give technical support, in terms of coaches and scouts, to help train young potential footballers, and in return will receive a high-profile presence in western India.
Mr Ayre has said he envisages the LFC-backed centre "projecting football as a lucrative career option not just as a player, but as a manager, coach, administrator and support staff as well".
And he said Liverpool cannot go into India hoping to sell £45 replica shirts, but must "have a sustainable plan that touches all the demographics of the Indian market".
'New to India'
Indian national team coach Bob Houghton has accused the leading English clubs of getting involved in the country "as a purely business proposition".
Liverpool and Chelsea are at the forefront of the academy idea
But Sharon Bamford, chief executive of the UK Indian Business Council, has praised one of those clubs - Chelsea - for realising they have a corporate social responsibility in the country.
And Chelsea officials insist that they want to build a long-term relationship with potential Indian customers, so that "people feel confident with Chelsea as a product".
"We are new to India," Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon said at the meeting of the UK India Business Council at Stamford Bridge.
"We are still at the information and intelligence gathering stage, and are not making money out of it."
He said that over the past year the club had been trying to understand the marketplace, and opportunities for Chelsea.
"I have been there four times in the past year," said Mr Kenyon. "There has been a tremendous enthusiasm and excitement.
"It is a football-mad environment - you see children playing football in the street - but there are different challenges there from other parts of the world.
"However, the boom in Premier League popularity has helped. Kick-off times work very well with India."
When the Premier League was established in the 1992/93 season it was broadcast in 27 countries. Now it is beamed into 210 nations.
Mr Kenyon said that just because cricket was the number one sport in India it did not mean that football clubs could not be successful.
"India is cricket mad and that is one of the questions we have asked ourselves - 'is there room for football?' We believe that there is.
"It is not about competing with cricket, but finding a niche where football can grow and we can do business.
INDIA FOOTBALL CHALLENGES
Competing interstate politics
Often unwieldy bureaucracy
Need for better stadium and training infrastructure
Twenty20 cricket competing for same demographic
An indication of the growing interest in football in India can be seen in fact that World Cup TV rights there went for $3m in 2002, but have been sold for the 2010 tournament for $40m.
"Football is bracketed with youth whereas cricket is seen seen somewhat as 'the sport of my fathers'."
However he did acknowledge that Twenty20 cricket was "capturing the imagination" of the same demographic Chelsea is aiming at.
"But the knowledge of Chelsea is already there in the Indian market, it isn't about having to tell them who Chelsea are," Mr Kenyon said.
He said that meant the club could concentrate on looking at the business opportunities.
"If not on day one, but at least along the way, you have to start to generate a return from what you are doing," he said.
"This is a very long term strategy, but we are looking to make money. There is no point in someone being busy all around the world, and not be making some return on it."
'Factor for good'
Chelsea's target demographic is urban, web and mobile literate, and English speaking. Their venture, he said, would also include a strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) element.
"Football can be a massive factor for good in India. There is very little in the way of existing-football related social programmes."
Chelsea helped launch the Vision India football scheme
Chelsea helped launch and is development partner in the Asian Football Confederation's Vision India programme, to raise standards the games standards in the continent, on and off the field.
While European clubs were keen to lend expertise and experience, India needed to ultimately take the lead in its own football development, Mr Kenyon said.
"There are real, real, positives in India for an English club as I believe football has got a real future in India over the next 10 years ," said Mr Kenyon.
"What we have got to concentrate on is being partners, with everyone from the top administrators down to the grass roots.
"India can experience the same sort of growth pattern in football terms that it has set itself in economic terms."