Premier League club Wolverhampton Wanderers announced its entry into India last week by associating with Boss Entertainment.
The first part of the association sees the football club from England looking to link with schools, academies and clubs within India to work towards on-ground development in India.
Ahead of the start of the Premier League campaign for the club, we caught up with international project manager Joe Hunt to learn more about the Indian association and how Wolves plans to market itself in South Asia.
The way the club has grown – from literally nowhere to close to the top of the Premier League has got a lot of interest for the club (the club finished seventh last year). Previously we were doing a little bit of international work around the world- my role is to bring it together and have the club grow commercially.
I'm a coach professionally. This is a new role for me and it's kind of nice to concentrate on this too.
During the lockdown we sort of reset and focused on areas we wanted to reach out to. India was one of the bigger markets. The Premier League is supportive of all the work we do, and they have a presence in India and have been guiding us on how to do things in the country.
We didn't want to bulldoze our way into the country. We have an educated approach into the market. We had a call with Watford who have done work with Boss Entertainment in the past and we discussed what we wanted to do. Because of the pandemic we couldn't come down to India, so the next best thing was the digital approach. This just accelerated our work on the digital platform.
We spoke to the coaches too directly and shared learnings through one-on-one webinars. That went down really well. This is our first step into the market.
In the modern day social media is really powerful and we have been connecting with fans using that.
How important would the Indian market be for the club? Do many of your interactions on social media come from the Indian market?
While we are the most supported club in Wolverhampton, there are a lot of football clubs here (in England) and there's a lot of competition for football fans here. In the region we are, we have Wolverhampton Wanders, Aston Villa, Birmingham City, West Browmich Albion and more.
So we can't go into these regions and acquire more fans. And so our market is international.
We have fan clubs in the world called Worldwide Wolves and we have four supporters clubs in India. It just goes to show how far the club has come.
What other work has the club being doing internationally?
We have plenty of development work going on in the USA. We have 14 partner clubs in the USA and wanted to increase that to 25-30 clubs, but haven’t been able to do so because of the pandemic.
We got other work going in South East Asia. We have Chinese owners (Fosun Group) and also have a club called Wolves FC in China.
Raul Jiminez (a Wolves player from Mexico) has been very successful and spread our success in Mexico. We want that kind of success elsewhere. We have a lot of Portuguese players too doing well.
While Jiminez helped you with success in Mexico, Wolves formerly had a player of Indian origin in Daniel Batth. He has moved on to Stoke City and do you believe that was a missed opportunity for the club to connect with Indian audiences?
It’s not about just having players from the country. Other clubs are well known in India too, and it’s because of the success. It's about Nuno (Espírito Santo, head coach) getting the best players in. The bottom line on the signing is about having to be a good footballer.
Football fans in India end up supporting a top club - based on their performance or because of a big name playing for them. With Wolves just outside the 'top six' in England, how do you plan to attract fans from outside of England?
It's always a challenge to attract fans. The big six are the big six. But, this wasn’t the case till a few years ago. If you go back in time there arouns the late 90s and early 2000s it was only Man Utd and Arsenal succeeding. Aston Villa were also strong. Man City weren't even in the division then and now see where they are. Liverpool has always been huge, even though they won their first title in 30 years last season. Arsenal have been a little off the pace. So, how football clubs progress changes quickly. We are determined to do as well as we can on and off the pitch. We had a top season last season, and disappointed to not finish in the top six. We would like everyone to take note of us.
The club is based in a part of the United Kingdom which has a South Asian community not too far from the home ground. Would you be looking to bring out that messaging to attract the South Asian audience?
We are very proud of the fact that we are part of this multicultural community. There is a high population of Asian fans. They would be quite excited about us going to India with this association with Boss.
Over the last season, Wolves has happened to be a ‘second club’ for a lot of football fans. So, while they could be interested in the club, they might not be supporters who go out there and buy jerseys or other merchandise. Would that be disadvantage?
We don't see it as a disadvantage. We see it as - four years ago, nobody paid attention to us. Now, we're actually been noticed. Football changes all the time. Making it to the Europa League was a big thing for us. A lot of the teams are noticing us. Fans are noticing us. It’s everything about us - our colours, the style of football, the crest etc. In terms of coaching we have a brilliant team too. So, it's about working together as the ‘Wolf pack’.
I think it's a matter of time before we become the first club of choice for fans. We're fortunate where we've come from. We are humble and even the academy, when we're doing well. Our academy staff is integrated within it. We went to China for pre-season last season and were well received by fans too.
Cricket has been the main draw for sports audiences in India. The ISL (Indian Super League) did try to challenge that, but it hasn't achieved the success of the Indian Premier League. How can India become a multi-sporting country and what role can football clubs like Wolves play in that?
I've been thinking about that one. But, if you take the USA as an example - soccer, as they call football in that part of the world, isn't in the top four popular sports. But, the beauty of it is that the youth wants to play soccer in the USA.
In the UK it's easy for us because football is the number one sport.
In India, you guys love cricket and produce some great players. You can't go toe-to-toe with cricket in India and knock cricket off as the number one sport. Having said that, there's a huge population in India and so a big market for football too. Now, we're seeing more people playing the sport.
We want to come to India, get on the grass and do some work. It doesn't matter what it is. We have the expertise to do it. We're talking with clubs for different work.
So can we expect Wolves to come to India for pre-season sometime soon?
In the future sometime hopefully. That’s not my role at the club. We went to China last year and that was huge. It helps that we're owned by a Chinese firm too. India is a key market as mentioned earlier.