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#CentreStage -- Mohun Bagan's trophy rally gave us a glimpse of the untapped commercial potential of Kolkata football

Kolkata witnessed a historic trophy tour of Mohun Bagan club on 18th October, 2020. The North Kolkata streets were choc-a-bloc for as good as 4-5 hours, literally. Regular traffic was diverted to a different route. Mariners had taken over the City of Joy and painted it green and maroon just before the start of the Durga Puja festival.

Pictures and videos of the event went viral all over the country. The Prime Minister tweeted his congratulations to the club, the West Bengal Chief Minister tweeted as well. Congratulatory messages poured in from various corners along with occasional criticism on the need behind organising such a rally when the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. 

This column will not go into that controversy of whether or not it was required to be organised. Mohun Bagan officials had taken all necessary permissions, tried to maintain all precautions by initially allowing only cars, larger vehicles and motorbikes for the rally but after some time, the city of Kolkata took control. Passion, emotion took over actually. Sponsored PR campaigns without voluntary mass involvement can be controlled; spontaneous explosion of emotions can't be. It was never an organised gathering like political rallies. Only a mere Facebook post from the club's account which was an official notification, not even an advertisement. That's it.

Now what does it mean? It actually demonstrates the love and passion one part of Kolkata has for Mohun Bagan and, it exists equally for East Bengal amidst the other part. More than that, it pin-points the existence of a huge commercial market, a ripe customer base for corporates, which was never explored at all. Mohun Bagan & East Bengal rus in the blood of the Bengalis. By birth, someone is either MB or EB supporter. 

It transmits across generations via family stories, folklores .. the club is treated like a temple by these fans. Because in a sense they are not just fans, they are devotees. They don't care about the virus. They can walk miles just to see a trophy. They are intolerant about their club. A large number of fans actualy offer prayers, touching their head at the club gate, before entering the club premises. They refer to their club a "Mother." The unconditional love they have for their clubs pours out not just on social media but also in the galleries and terraces, when people bunk schools and offices to attend matches even when they kick off on weekdays during office hours.

Now comes the real question. Mohun Bagan's footballing division has now been fully corporatised. Its majority shares are owned by Mr. Sanjiv Goenka of the RPSG Group.  Mr. Goenka is regarded as pioneer in M&A ( merger & acquisition) in the Industry with a strong reputation of modernising heritage institutions by converting them into commercially viable entities without sacrificing their heritage. So far, things have mostly been the same for Mohun Bagan.

This 131 year old institution has everything in its kitty: the tradition, glory, heritage and above all, mass acceptance. The thing which was lacking was financial muscle power and of course a professional set-up to run the business, not always from heart but from the brain too. RPSG can fill this void provided they actually understand which gold mine they have touched.

So, what should be the actionable for them as a corporate entity? The social media team must acknowledge and glorify Mohun Bagan in the way Mohun Baganis want. The new management now has the responsibility of taking the leadership of not just a football team but also a community of millions. They need to sensitise themselves adequately on what makes Mohun Bagan unique in order to touch the right chords with the Mariners. Both on Twitter and Facebook, there are certain Mohun Bagan fan pages and accounts which actually do a very good job of connecting with fans with innovative posts and brilliant fan campaigns. If such amateur unprofessional handles can do such things, why can't professionally managed handles? 

Yes, RPSG has spent hundreds of crores on its erstwhile ATK brand but now the time has come to accept that Mohun Bagan is a much much stronger brand for their own commercial inteterest, if nothing else. Of course, in today's scenario of Indian Football, getting a sizeable return out of the investment made is really tough (atleast that's what the myth is) and may not actually happen in one or two years. But, with a brand that has such widespread appeal, a proper approach can do the trick. Sponsorship, merchandising, synergistic collaborations strategy with other popular brands, earning transfer fee via loaning out academy players, fan membership, season tickets, image rights... everything can come together to produce great results if proper stepping stones are laid for right revenue model. 

First, take the big one. Revenue via sponsorship. Why do hundreds of crores of sponsorship money flows during Durga Puja in West Bengal? The answer is Visibility during Mass gathering. Now, half of that mass of this state belongs to this institution whose name is Mohun Bagan. No political, religious or caste based discrimination exists here. What exists is love for football and love for the Mother Xlub. Fetching 8-10 sponsors (main kit sponsor, away kit sponsor, training ground sponsor, training kit sponsor, travel kit sponsor etc etc) with contract value of 3-4 crore each can recoup the investment amount. Not joking.

Yes, there is a belief amongst large corporates that Indians do not watch anything apart from cricket. Then from where did those people come for the trophy rally, or the crowds in the stadium? No one has actually made a serious attempt to tap this market, ever. Marketing agencies have to make good use of those stunning visuals. If these can't convince corporates.

Then, there's fan membership. Average attendance of Mohun Bagan games last season was 22,410. Remember, this is without any marketing and with unfavourable kick off time on weekdays at 5 pm, hosting the games way outside kolkata in smaller venues like Kalyani etc. So, with proper marketing and glitz, at YBK, during weekend evening games, it may be easy for management to register an average attendance of 38-40k per match. Even if the management manages to turn 25,000 fans into members (at a cost of yearly Rs 2000) with tickets to home matches along with merch, coupons and fan membership card, it's a sum of Rs 5 crore! 

Now the second one: merchandising. The craze for Mohun Bagan's champion jersey may be demonstrated here as another example. The jerseys (worth Rs 600/-) sold out like hot cake within 2-3 hours every time it was made available on Amazon. It has torn apart the myth that Mohun Bagan fans mainly belong to the lower strata of the society who may not have that capacity to spend that much on jerseys, scarf etc. 

Time has changed. Selling good quality jerseys and t-shirts worth Rs 1000/- will be a good investment to make. 30,000 jerseys yearly: is it a huge target with the help of a professional and quality marketing machinery like that of RPSG? The answer is no. That's another 3 crore even if you just sell the jerseys, not other products. There are so many such ways which may start yielding results if planned properly. 

The key is to show the right intent towards the right cause. Knowing Mr. Goenka's business acumen as well as strong passion for football, I will be actually surprised if the entire ATK Mohun Bagan social media and marketing professionals have not yet been called in for any series of emergency meeting in his cabin, post 18th October. If not now, when?

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