indian football fans
Indian football fans pictured in 2014.Reuters

Cricket remains the major contributor to sports viewership on Indian television, but football got a boost with the just-concluded 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia where India was not even participating.

Sports viewership year-on-year has gone up. While it contributed 2.8 percent to total TV viewership in 2016, it grew to 3.2 percent in 2017 and 3.48 percent in 2018, according to data from the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC).

With 64 percent contribution to the sports genre coming from cricket, it remains the most dominant sport being consumed on TV currently. However, premium sports events like FIFA World Cup, Barclays Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and more have also proved to be a hit with Indian viewers, BARC pointed out.

For the first 58 matches, the 2018 FIFA World Cup garnered a viewership of 194.1 million impressions, while the combined viewership for the first two India vs England T20 matches was 20.7 million "impressions", the not-for-profit body that publishes weekly TV viewership data for India, said in response to a query by IANS.

(Impressions are the number of individuals of a target audience who viewed an "event", averaged across minutes.)

In June 2018, which had both cricket (India vs Ireland and India vs England) and soccer (Hero Intercontinental Cup and FIFA World Cup), the contribution of soccer to the sports genre on TV was 30 percent, while that of cricket was 15 percent.

The scale of viewership for football has seen an upswing that was spurred by the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, says Rajesh Kaul, Chief Revenue Officer, Distribution, and Head, Sports, Sony Pictures Networks (SPN), one of the predominant players in the sports broadcasting business in India.

The FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, which was the first FIFA event to be held in India, had a very positive impact on increasing viewership for football in India. The tournament turned out to be a milestone event as it became the most attended and highest-scoring tournament in its history.

"Over 35 percent of total viewership for the FIFA U-17 World Cup came from non-traditional football markets. Overall reach was over 47 million viewers across India. With the FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia, the scale became even greater," Kaul told IANS.

France World Cup
France became the sixth team to win the World Cup multiple times.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The 2018 Fifa World Cup was shown on SONY TEN 2, SONY TEN 3 and SONY ESPN channels.

Kaul said that while India did not even participate, viewers in the nation had their favourite countries during the tournament, in which France emerged the winner beating Croatia in a thrilling final earlier this month.

With a favourable timing of matches for Indian viewers and with SPN's coverage expanding to regional language feeds - in Hindi, Malayalam, Bengali, Tamil, and Telugu - viewership of the football gala was "impressive", Kaul said, adding that there was a rise in interest not only among men but women too.

As per BARC India's data, while the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicked off on June 14, a comparison of the previous four weeks shows a 2 percent de-growth in the viewership of Hindi General Entertainment Channels (GEC) genre -- which could be because most of the FIFA games were not played during Hindi GEC primetime.

To give the football fever a further boost, SPN had launched a "#MeriDoosriCountry" campaign.

"The World Cup is the largest sporting event across the globe and it appeals to a diverse set of viewers. There are football fans and then there are FIFA World Cup fans who emerge to support their "doosri country" every four years. Our campaign focused on bringing fans together to cheer for their adopted country even though they don't have any national connect," Kaul said.

Vis-a-vis cricket, were there bigger advertisers and brands pitching for ad space during football matches?

"FIFA World Cup is one of the largest advertising platforms for many brands. The viewership of such tournaments is very high, which resulted in brands showing great interest in the tournament," Kaul said.