Bhaichung Bhutia joins two IIT alumni on a mission to make football mainstream in India
The Indian national football team was considered to be one of the best teams in Asia in the 1950s and 60s. In fact, the team won gold in the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games. However, the Indian national football team has not qualified for the World Cup in over 60 years.
Although the game has received a lot of interest locally in the 21st century, football fans in India are still a minority. In early 2009, football fans and college-level footballers Kishore Taid and Anurag Khilnani met up with some friends in Mumbai, and it hit them that the two of them were the only ones talking football in a largely cricket-crazy group.
The two IIT Delhi alumni decided to change this scenario and began applying their business acumen to build something around football. The duo realised that the problem began at school level, and if they wanted India to qualify for the 2036 World Cup, every school in India would need a training academy today.
While Kishore and Anurag formalised the idea in late 2009, they realised that the only way this would work if a celebrity could support their vision.
And who better than Bhaichung Bhutia, the torchbearer of Indian football? The two began pursuing the footballer and the persistence paid off when the player finally decided to meet them in January 2010. Their pitch to Bhaichung Bhutia was plain and simple - “lend us your name and expertise” - and they would take the idea national and Indian football global. The player, excited and confident, decided to jump in at once.
Anurag and Kishore immediately quit their banking jobs, and the trio founded the Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools (BBFS) in August 2010.
“We want to bridge the gap between talent, education, and a career in sports. This is not only from a player's perspective, but also from the sense of improving overall fitness among the younger generation, as well as building an intellectual and training database of coaches in the country across sports,” says Kishore.
He adds that BBFS does this through a mix of industry leading infrastructure, coaching, and guidance base.
“Our basic philosophy is that no talented Indian child should be deprived of the best football coaching facilities in the country for socio-economic reasons,” says Kishore.
According to BBFS, there are approximately 15 million children between the age of 5 to 17 who are interested in learning sports in an organised setup.
The organisation aims to provide a platform to nurture talent through in-house training and development programmes. These programmes are designed and executed by qualified Indian football coaches and instructors in consultation with resident European instructors.
A 4-star rated academy by the AIFF (All India Football Federation) under the academy accreditation programme, players from BFFS participate in all (Under-13, Under-15 and Under-18) AIFF Youth Leagues.
“We see BBFS as the first step for school students interested in becoming professional footballers. With Bhaichung's leadership, experience and network, we plan to provide a complete path towards becoming a successful professional footballer,” says Kishore.
The organisation is trying to create a holistic ecosystem for player development through its regular and advanced training centres (development squads and youth league squads), residential academy, and professional club affiliations.
How the product works
“We are the pioneers of a holistic, game-based training methodology of football education in India,” says Kishore.
The 'tech' is an end-to-end platform in the form of an that brings coaches, players, and parents on the same page, helping in ease of delivery of programme and real-time progress monitoring based on data analytics. It tracks a student’s progress, strengths and weaknesses, like passes made, times they lost possession of the ball, and the number of assists provided for goals. Over time, this data evolves into rich data to train them to become better with each passing year as coaches use this data to understand a player’s football journey and come up with customised programmes for them.
“We have the largest pool of coaches in India accredited with internationally recognised coaching licenses. The aim is to constantly upgrade their knowledge so that we have a country leading intellectual database for football education,” says Kishore.
The first BBFS centre was opened in the Ryan International School in Vasant Kunj in 2010. Kishore and Anurag closely worked in the whole setup process right from on-ground operations to curriculum decisions, and interacting and understand customer needs. This helped them develop a clear understanding about how to evolve this idea and set the course for their other centres. The duo wanted to ensure that there was a process, which captured data that could benefit future players.
Beginning with a Rs 10 lakh investment, BBFS has 60 training centres today.
“We are currently leaders in the football training market running on an asset-light model, which has the potential for high scalability. In a fast and lean manner, we’ve been able to set up training centres across the country through industry leading operational standards as well as a coaching setup that has been instrumental in the holistic development of our players. We are the only organisation in this business with a robust and scalable presence across multiple states,” says Kishore.
Sources say that since the business is growing to Rs 10 crore in revenue (the company did not disclose its revenue), tseveral marquee investors have come on-board this year. A few of them have been BBFS parents (startup founders who put their children in BBFS). Currently, it lists the co-founders of Carwale, Zomato, Delhivery, and MGB Advisors as their angel investors. BBFS did not disclose the amount invested.
The organisation’s major revenue source is the student fees, priced at Rs 3,500 per month per student, with subsidised rates for the socio-economically weak backgrounds that form about 20 percent of the student base.
“This helps us make a financially viable business, and keep giving back to the society,” says Kishore.
According to CII, the Indian sports industry is worth $10 billion, and the country’s sports training and development at the grassroots level is worth $5 billion. In the market, BBFS competes with the likes of Gameday, Football Schools of India, DSK Shivajians Academy, Paris Saint-Germain Academy India, FCBEscola Soccer School, Boca Juniors Football School and Arsenal Soccer Schools India. However, while BFFS has scaled up nationally, most of the others have a presence in two or three cities.
A gameplan for the next 18 months
At present, BBFS offers football coaching through 60 training centres across the country in 18 cities to almost 3,000 children between the ages of 5 and 17. The founder claims that the organisation has trained nearly 100,000 children in the last nine year.
In the next 18 months, it plans to have a presence in each state with 200 centres across the country. This is in line with the 2x growth that it has experienced over the last year. The company claims to be highly rated by AIFF and has co-written the D-License coaching manual currently in use across India.
“We helped develop ‘Lakshya’, the 10-year master plan for Indian football, which helped set the precedence for the U-17 FIFA World Cup bid and set up a well-structured system for developing youth and grassroots football in India,” says Kishore.
All their courses and training sessions are proprietary and developed in accordance to state-of-the-art methodologies in association with top international coaches.
The founding team, apart from the duo and Bhaichung Bhutia, consists of IIT and IIM graduates as well as top football coaches from the country. This gives them the technical and operational leadership to scale new heights. In addition, BBFS has developed the largest pool of homegrown football coaching intellect developed through constant training and development.
“The results of our hard work have been massive as over three hundred students from BBFS have gone on to play football at least at the state level or higher,” says Kishore proudly. In addition, he claims that nine players trained or scouted by BBFS have represented India at the national level (Under-16, Under-19, Under-23, Senior) with three players having made the captain of their teams.
Hopefully, this data-led approach will steer India in the right direction and help us qualify for the World Cup soon.