The two iconic clubs of Kolkata have always provided the glamour quotient for an otherwise nondescript Indian domestic football structure
Last week, amidst the coronavirus related news coverage and the hysteria surrounding the investigation of Sushant Singh Rajput's death, a significant event in the Indian football landscape took place in Kolkata.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced that Shree Cement will be the new investor of East Bengal, thus ending the agony of anxious supporters of the club, who were worried that the club may fall behind its arch-rivals Mohun Bagan, who earlier this year announced its merger with ATK, owned by the RPSG Group, thus giving them an entry into the Indian Super League.
The two iconic clubs of Kolkata have always provided the glamour quotient for an otherwise nondescript Indian domestic football structure.
But their popularity never translated into windfalls as they often struggled to raise money to build a competitive side as corporate teams like Bengaluru FC, erstwhile Mahindra United and Dempo gave them tough competition in signing the top players.
However, this is not the first time both the clubs are entering into tie-ups with a corporate entity.
In 1998, then Vijay Mallya-owned United Breweries group companies struck a deal with both clubs. The two clubs were flush with funds and there was no interference from the liquor baron or the company officials in the running of the football team.
But after a few years, UB slashed sponsorship money and later, due to events emanating in the context of Mallya's troubles, the relationship started to deteriorate.
Mohun Bagan had to bear the majority of the brunt as United Spirits was sold to Diageo, which was not interested in extending the association.
In 2018, East Bengal announced its tie-up with Bengaluru-based Quess Corp but the relationship turned sour a year later as the club officials and company representatives sparred on various issues, leading to termination of the deal.
"For both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, the UB Group association was a sweetheart deal. Vijay (Mallya) being a Kolkata boy knew the passion associated with the game and never interfered in the club's functioning. The club officials were happy getting the desired sponsorship money and running the team according to their whims. But after the problems with UB Group surfaced, they realised that no company would give money without not having control," said a person who has closely tracked the developments at both the clubs over the past few decades.
Sandip Ghose, marketing strategist with experience in cement, FMCG and media sectors, feels both the clubs have suffered due to mismanagement and internal politics.
"The clubs have not been able to capitalise on their popularity due to unprofessional management and internal fighting. Running a modern football team requires a different level of competence, which they lacked," he said.
So, how does he see the new arrangement working out?
"It all depends on how they cultivate relation with investors. One can only hope for the best. It is a step right in the right direction. Just like any acquisition process, there are various dynamics involved to run it in a successful manner," he said.
Lloyd Mathias, business strategist and ace marketer, feels their struggle is reflective on the state of Indian football, in general.
"The passion that the two clubs command among their followers is truly amazing. However this is a historical legacy and the inability of the club management to modernise and convert this following into a monetisable proposition has been an issue," he said.
Ghose, however, feels it all boils down to the deliverables.
"MP Birla had a limited engagement as an associate sponsor of Mohun Bagan for two years and it worked out reasonably well," he said.
Mathias also feels the officials of both clubs have not been able to harness the heritage and passion of these two clubs effectively.
On the road ahead for both these clubs now that they have found financial security, Mathias said running it in a professional manner will be the key.
“One hopes the corporatisation and a more professional sports management set up, helps. Putting together a strong support team to develop and monetise the clubs popularity – in terms of commercial arrangements, branding, merchandising, and grassroots programmes will be critical,” he added.Follow our coverage of the coronavirus crisis here.