Last year, Simon Chadwick, a sports business expert, compared the franchising policy of City Football Group – English champions Manchester City’s parent company – to McDonald’s. Bigger the group, he explained to the Sydney Morning Herald, “the more the individual parts can help each other with co-branding opportunities and intelligence sharing.”
On Thursday, as CFG added Mumbai City to its chain by purchasing 65 percent stake (actor Ranbir Kapoor and film producer Bimal Parekh will together hold the remaining 35 percent), it is this ‘intelligence sharing’ that the Indian Super League side will hope to benefit from.
European clubs foraying into the Indian market is not new. But intentions of most have been doubted as none have made any tangible difference to Indian football. Earlier this year, Basel did something no foreign club had done earlier in India when they purchased a minority stake (26 percent) in I-League champions Chennai City.
Why CFG deal bodes well for Mumbai City FC
Unlike other instances of European clubs entering the Indian market, City Football Group’s track record at the clubs they have bought stakes in should bode well for Mumbai. The Group buying a majority stake in the ISL side shows their seriousness. Mumbai, like other clubs in CFG’s portfolio, can benefit from the technical expertise, which can ultimately help improve the quality of coaches and players. In the long term, Mumbai can also expect an improvement in training and stadium facilities, as seen at CFG’s other acquisitions.
But City Football Group’s deal trumps that. It is for the first time a foreign entity has bought a controlling stake in an Indian club. “This is one big difference and shows their seriousness. They have spent a lot of time and effort in understanding the market before taking the jump,” Mumbai City’s CEO Indranil Das Blah said.
Mumbai is the eighth club in CFG’s bouquet. Apart from Manchester City, the group – controlled by Abu Dhabi United Group – also owns New York City FC, Melbourne FC, Uruguayan side Atletico Torque, China’s Sichuan Jiuniu while holds stakes in Japanese side Yokohama Marinos and Spain’s Girona.
At most of these clubs, the City brand was swiftly introduced – name and colours brought in sync, dressing rooms at some turned into a replica of the one at Etihad and training grounds refurbished.
In New York, the CFG is also in the process of constructing a new stadium. From Mumbai’s point of view, the last three points might be tough to execute.
Mumbai, who finished third in the last ISL season, right now play at the 8,000-seater Andheri Sports Complex, a tiny piece of real estate in the middle of a congested Western suburb, with very little scope for expansion.
“The chances of us getting our own training facility are more with CFG than without them,” Blah said. “We need to see what’s feasible. Mumbai is a unique market because real estate is at a premium. I’m not saying it’s an immediate plan but it is something we will evaluate.”
CFG’s more significant contribution to the clubs they own is sharing technical expertise. It’s something the group’s chief executive Ferran Soriano touched upon on Thursday. Instead of making tall claims of pre-season friendlies and such, Soriano spoke about ‘sharing experiences and sharing technology.’
Instead of the high-profile club officials and players, the pattern at the CFG clubs is the staff from various departments routinely visiting each centre to advise. Each training session—be it in Melbourne, in New York or in Sichuan—is recorded using the same camera system that exists at Manchester City. These videos are uploaded to a central system from where CFG’s technical department analyses and provides feedback.
In an interview to Reuters earlier this year, New York City coach Claudio Reyna spoke about how the insight obtained by ‘tapping into the network that Manchester City has’ helped the team improve drastically. The intention, he said, was to allow coaches, and analysts move seamlessly between teams.
Indian teams have been light years behind Asia’s elite, let alone rest of the world, in such technical aspects. The team’s current coaching staff, led by Portuguese Champions League winner Jorge Costa, will hope to take advantage of the CFG’s technical expertise. “Even something like the software they use for analysis and scouting,” Blah said.
Soriano added: “The coach will have a relationship with (Manchester City manager Pep) Guardiola. All the Mumbai games are going to be watched by a lot of people, in our systems.”
Both parties have so far refrained from making big promises, perhaps realistic about the task that stares them in the face. In a city that is spoilt for choices in terms of entertainment options, and cricket occupying the sporting space, football clubs have struggled to exist. Poor attendances and lack of sponsors have forced clubs like Mahindra United, Mumbai FC and Air India to shut shop.
Mumbai City, too, have had their share of struggles in establishing themselves as a brand in the city. Like other ISL clubs, they too have been suffering losses in the range of Rs 30 crore annually since entering the fray in 2014. Damian Willoughby, who was named CFG India’s CEO, said they hope to generate revenues by exploiting the group’s global partnerships – the ‘co-branding opportunities’ that Chadwick referred to. “We have enjoyed significant success across our organistation by bringing in leading blue chip brands. We have seen the power of having a globally connected family of football clubs,” Willoughby said.
Neither Manchester nor Mumbai, however, are expecting overnight changes. “We know this is the path and this is what the future holds,” Blah said. “Both parties have gotten into this relationship with our eyes open.”