Wednesday, September 17, 2014

India: The Most Popular Country at the Soccerex Party

I’ve attended many parties in my life, all across the globe.  And the one thing that I can confidently say is that it feels damn good to be the most popular, desired person at the party.  The experience is just completely different when this is the case: people approach you, conversations seem to flow, you get introduced to friends of friends of friends, you get invited to multiple after-parties and you never find yourself standing alone in the corner trying to look busy checking Facebook updates.  These are the types of parties that you never want to end and somehow leave with more energy than when you first arrived.

The 2014 Soccerex Global Convention turned out to be one of these types of parties for the FICCI-Libero Sports Indian delegation.  Our delegation started the trip with private tours of Melwood and Anfield, a once in a lifetime experience for any fan of the beautiful game.  Liverpool FC management then treated us to a traditional English lunch which was followed by a riveting presentation on the club’s global strategy hosted in a private room at Anfield.  

The actual conference and exhibition hall kicked off the next day which is when we truly understood India’s popularity. Soccerex scheduled a panel session entitled, “Building Football’s Sleeping Giant.” Libero Sports Managing Director Sukhvinder Singh moderated the session that included AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das, I-League CEO Sunando Dhar, FICCI Director Rajpal Singh, LIFA-DSK President Shirish Kulkarni and Kerala Blasters player Michael Chopra. The room had 150 seats yet over 500 people showed up to learn about the present and future of Indian football. It was quite a spectacle to see so many people packed into a room to listen to speeches made by individuals representing a country ranked 160th in the world in the latest FIFA World Rankings. Just shows what the potential of a billion plus people can do. 

The excitement for India continued throughout the conference. Our “Destination India” stall was constantly overflowing with visitors interested in discussing the I-League, the Indian Super League and the 2017 U-17 FIFA World Cup. In addition to the regular vendors, big names like Olympic Gold Medalist Micheal Johnson, Everton FC legend Phil Neville, Liverpool FC legend Steve McMahon and Prince of Jordan Prince Ali all made their way over to our stall to chat.

The conversations were in depth as people had certainly done their homework on the Indian football industry.  This was much different than our experience over the past two years when India was merely an exciting market in theory but lacked the actual substance to keep conversations longer than a few minutes.  I guess now that the U-17 FIFA World Cup has been announced and the Indian Super League is actually happening, people see India as a place where business is actually flowing vs. a place with potential but consistently under-performing.   

Soccerex evenings were quite special. One night they organized a party at the National Football Museum where guests had the opportunity to network, drink free booze and watch England beat Switzerland in the European Qualifiers. The next night we all did the same thing (minus the match) in the world famous walls of Manchester United’s Old Trafford Stadium.  The whole experience was a football lovers dream come true. 

Now we are back in Delhi and on to the next phase.  The party was a blast, we managed to get a lot of phone numbers from very attractive prospects, but true test will be converting interest into long term relationships. 

With Libero Sports MD Sukhvinder Singh and Phil Neville

Scene from the panel discussion on Indian football 

With Steve McMahon, Russell (footlite) and my colleague Sweekar

With AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das and Libero Sports MD Sukhvinder Singh

Sukhvinder with Prince Ali 

With the Indian delegation at Anfield

With Sukhvinder and Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Johnson

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