Despite being widely regarded as a cricket-crazed nation, India has always had a dedicated audience for the most popular sport in the world - football. Indian viewers of "the beautiful game" especially follow European football and major continental and global tournaments of the sport. Even the ones who are oblivious to I-League show a keen interest in the Manchester derbies and the El Clasicos.

As it turns out, Fifa World Cup 2018 fever has taken football craze in the country to another level.

153.2 million viewers have followed the live telecast of the round-robin stages of quadrennial football extravaganza on television and streaming platforms. The figure was released by Sony Pictures Network, which is the official broadcaster of the World Cup in India.

A large chunk of the viewers — 123.2 million — have tuned into their television sets while 30 million streamed it on the Sony Liv mobile app their official website. 83.9 million of the television viewers watched the 48 group-stage matches live on the broadcaster's sports channels in the country.

As expected, over 60% (72.7 million) of the television reach came from Hindi speaking viewers of the country. Notably, 47% of the tournament reach comes from female viewers.

West Bengal > Kerala

Kolkata Fifa World Cup 2018
Indian fans of Brazilian football team celebrate during the FIFA 2018 World Cup last 16 football match between Brazil and Mexico, in Kolkata.DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to the World Cup, there seems to be no distinction between the urban and the rural audience as 42% of the overall television reach comes from rural markets, the official broadcaster data reveals.

No prizes for guessing the next one. West Bengal and Kerala, the football-crazy states in the country, are topping the charts when it comes to the reach for live matches.

Kolkata Fifa World Cup 2018
Argentina and Lionel Messi fans watch on a screen the FIFA 2018 World Cup last 16 football match between Argentina and France, in Kolkata.AFP/Getty Images

The home of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have slightly more viewers of the showpiece event when compared to the passionate coastal state in South India, Kerala, which remains is divided between traditional powerhouses Brazil and Argentina. 

Highest markets in terms of reach for live matches

  1. West Bengal – 17.5 million
  2. Kerala – 15.8 million
  3. North East – 9.3 million
  4. Maharashtra and Goa - 9 million

Regional language commentary capturing audience's attention

The latest trend of regional language commentary has been captivating sports fans in the country and Fifa World Cup is no exception. Local language feeds — Hindi, Malayalam, Bengali, Tamil, and Telugu — have contributed to 47% of the overall viewership.

According to Sony Pictures, eight million viewers listened to the adrenaline-pumping commentary in Malayalam and seven million have preferred Bengali commentary.

While the viewership figures of the ongoing World Cup is a relatively smaller figure when compared to the 731.3 million impressions only on television for Indian Premier League (IPL) 2018, the numbers are only expected to grow during the knockout stages of the tournament, which has been unpredictable, to say the least.