The economic viability of football as a business in India has seen a sharp rise in the last few years. Various Indian brands have associated themselves with the beautiful game but one Mumbai-based company stands out.
BKT Tires chose to go out of India and market their brand in Europe. However, with over 50 per cent of BKT Tires' market in Europe, it seemed the only logical way.
"Europe is one of the leading markets for our brand and in particular, France. We were looking for options here and we got an opportunity," said BKT Tires' Managing Director, Mr Arvind Poddar.
BKT Tires, in September 2018, signed a six-season long deal with the Coupe de la Ligue (French League Cup) for naming rights till 2023-24. The company which specializes in manufacturing off-roading and agricultural vehicle tires have also secured a sponsorship deal with the Italian second-tier league, Serie B, for the next three seasons, re-branding it as Serie BKT.
While the French League association, the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) steps up its effort to penetrate the Indian viewership market, the partnership could not have come at a better time for the two.
"People from the LFP have already visited India. They are looking to associate with an Indian League. We are very positive that they will start a relationship with Indian sports. They want to bring Coupe de la Ligue to India. So they are looking at various options. When they come to India probably, we will also be one of the sponsors in India," Mr Poddar further revealed.
On being asked if BKT Tires would be seen investing independently or otherwise in the Indian football market, most preferably in the Indian Super League (ISL), the 61-year-old said, "IMG-Reliance are our consultants. So we are regularly discussing with them regarding avenues in the Indian market. If we get an opportunity, we will be looking at that.
"It is not very clear from them (LFP) about what they would be doing, whether they would tie up with the ISL or something else. I know they have had some meetings when they came to visit us in India (January 2019)."
Mr Poddar, who ranks within the top 100 richest man in India, believes that India is not far behind in football. "Football in France has been a tradition. Slowly, people in India are also getting crazy about the game. So it will catch up very fast.
"People used to wonder if our product (vehicle tires) would be able to match up to those manufactured in Europe. But we have shown that Indians have that competency and our tires are at par with any world leader. Similarly, the day is not far when India would be able to catch up to a global sport like football."
While Indian investors like Lakshmi Mittal (Queen's Park Rangers) and Venky's (Blackburn Rovers) have had a tumultuous journey owning football clubs, the strategy for BKT Tires remain different. "We are looking at who are we partnering with, whether or not they have a long term vision. Secondly, we are looking for title sponsorships. Our goal and aim is to reach the masses and capitalise in what we are investing in.
"If you are sponsoring a particular team and if you don't win two or three games, you are out. But, when you are sponsoring a league or a competition, throughout the entire game you will be present," explained Mr Poddar.
Other than football, BKT Tires have title sponsorship deals with Monster Jam, a popular North American off-road motorsports event and have partnered up with Australia's Big Bash League, a franchise Twenty20 cricket competition.
Back home, BKT Tires are associated with seven of the twelve Kabbadi franchises, including current champions Bengaluru Bulls. However, with French football extending its arms towards India with an eye to penetrate the vast consumer base, Mr Poddar remains excited.
"If they (LFP) come to India, we will definitely back them," Mr Poddar, whose net worth is around $ 1.7 billion, concluded.