It’s just not cricket

- November 18, 2022
| By : Rohan Chauhan |

Sports bars in NCR are showing lukewarm response to the upcoming Football World Cup unlike the T20 World Cup which ended last week and witnessed huge attendance as well as offers during live screenings

A football match played on the big screen during the 2006 World Cup. (Photo: Getty)

The upcoming FIFA World Cup, which begins on November 20 in Qatar this year, has generated a lot of buzz, with giant cut-outs of players such as Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar installed in states like Kerala well in advance. However, Delhi remains largely oblivious to it.

It is not just the streets that reveal a dearth of interest but also sportS bars that less than a week ago screened the England vs Pakistan T20 World Cup final in front of a capacity crowd.

Since the turnout for the screening is expected to be low compared to the investment one makes, sports bars and restaurants are largely indifferent to football.

Also read: Cricket to the rescue

The football matches will be shown on screens of restaurants and bars but these will not be special screenings – accompanied by discounts and offers, tournament themed drinks and dishes – and often with the commentary muted.

Low response

Mahee Singh, 26, manager at Dockyard My Bar restaurant in Gurugram, says that they “only screen cricket matches, not football” because of muted response for the latter.

“It’s not just about showing a match on the projector. There are a lot of other aspects involved like special offers, theme-based menus and dishes that require a lot of effort, time and money. They aren’t worth, considering the response,” Singh says.

He goes on to say that football, in general, is a game played and followed by the “affluent” section of the Delhi society. “The majority of our middle-class audience prefers cricket,” he adds.

“Even though the Indian cricket team did not make it to the final, our seats were full for the final match [between eventual champions England and Pakistan]. The management had a lot of ideas and offers in mind for the final if the semi-final game had gone in India’s favour. Nonetheless, the bookings had been good during the T20 World Cup,” he concludes.

The main round of the T20 World Cup was held from October 22 to November 13.

Even though the football World Cup starts just a week after the culmination of the T20 Cricket World Cup, the bar owners have lacked enthusiasm while talking about ideas or offers during the Football World Cup.

Marketing head of Pullman and Novotel Bar Aerocity in Delhi, Nikita Singhal, believes that the bulk of her audience is “interested in cricket”.

Enjoying at home

“Majority of football enthusiasts are young people, and this demographic has its own set of preferences. They’d rather stay at home with their buddies than go to a pub or restaurant and pay to watch the game,” she claims.

It is not that Delhi has lacked international stars in football.

The captain of the current Indian football team, Sunil Chhetri, spent his formative years as a footballer in Delhi. He is among the world’s top five goal-scorers in international football with 84 goals for India. He has also represented India in 131 internationals.

But the interest is evident only in pockets and is not omnipresent.

One of India’s most famous gaming and entertainment centres, Smaash, has a lot of football games but no upcoming activities related to football. The most prominent sports venues in Noida, like Delhi and Gurugram, have no special screenings for the World Cup football games.

Deepak Verma, the manager at Smaash, says football screenings at his place are usually organised by fans in groups comprising limited number of people.

They don’t usually have live screenings for people to place bookings on individual basis since the demand is low. However, he says that they will be screening matches this time around.

“For now, we will screen live matches, but there will be no additional offers or discounts that our customers receive for cricket games,” he says.

He continues, “I am a sports fan, and I can see that football has made tremendous strides over the years, but it still lags behind cricket in terms of popularity.”

Patriot also spoke to Anirban Ghosh, a football coach in the Capital and founder of the Khel Khel Me foundation helping young and underprivileged football students.

On being asked about the reason behind the low following of the world’s most popular sport in Delhi, Ghosh says, “The main reason is that we’re not making efforts at the grassroots level to encourage the game among the youngsters. Also, I feel why Delhi is lagging behind is because we don’t have success stories that grew out of nothing.”

“Delhi lacks the stories and athletes that people in Bengal look up to. Football is also popular in Goa and the north-eastern states because of this,” he reasons.

Divided loyalty

He felt that because of divided loyalty for teams among fans in Delhi, people don’t throng pubs or restaurant bars for football games.

“I believe that one of the main reasons [for people not thronging pubs] is that there are certain groups of people who support certain teams. It’s divided, not like cricket where everyone supports the whole nation. We don’t have the liberty for that in football [as India doesn’t qualify for the World Cup],” adds Ghosh.

“As far as screenings are concerned, there have been fan-clubs and groups that have now closed down. All of this adds up to screenings not being held. Because everyone now can watch football games on their smartphones [as well as smart TVs with big screens at their homes], it’s possible that people don’t want to get together and watch screenings together,” he concludes.

Some feel that the World Cup match hours are unearthly for fans – as per India Standard Time (IST) — and they in turn prefer to watch them from the comfort of their homes.

The forthcoming World Cup in Qatar will have matches at four time slots as per IST: 3:30 pm. 6:30 pm, 9:30 pm and 12:30 am.

It will become difficult for fans to stick around till so late at night especially since it will be winters and there will be fog.

Unlike previous editions, which were held in the summer months of northern hemisphere, the Qatar edition is being held in the winters. This is because the summer months in Qatar would have been too tough on footballers.

Embassy screenings

Screenings happen in foreign embassies in Delhi every time the World Cup takes place. British High Commission, French and Italian embassies take lead in organising them. However, these are only for the select few and are generally not open to public. Only those invited are allowed to attend.

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