Abhik Chatterjee, Head of Football Operations at Odisha FC, stated that digital marketing will play a key role in keeping the fans connected to the players with the matches set to be played in front of empty stands. The official shared other valuable insights during an interview with SportsCafe.
Odisha FC had an eventful debut season in the Indian Super League last time, despite their poor start in terms of performance, with them missing out on a playoff berth by a few yards. The team has gone through a major overhaul this season, with them making significant changes to their roster. Expensive foreign signings, a brand new coach in the dugout and a whole lot more, coupled with the fact that matches will be played in front of empty stands, makes this season an interesting one for the Odisha-based side. SportsCafe managed to catch up with Abhik Chatterjee, Head of Football Operations at the club, for a brief chat, during which he threw light on how the side is preparing for the season, with new norms in place.
SC: How has this season been different from the previous ones? With the team undergoing a complete overhaul.
Abhik: This season has been vastly different from ISL seasons, with the Covid-19 situation. For a long time, there was a lot of hoping and praying going on so that the season could take place, looking how the pandemic has affected all over the world. A lot of planning has gone into ensuring that the season is happening, a lot of work from both the Indian Super League side and the clubs’ side to ensure the health of the players are protected and that precautions are in place and make sure that the league takes place in a controlled environment.
Abhik: So, it has been very stressful to adhere to the guidelines, making sure all the players are aware of the challenges and all the clubs are equipped to handle the challenges. But, the underlying fact is that they get to do what they want, a lot of work has gone so that the league is up and running. In a particular way, it has been very different in any of the seasons so far.
SC: How will the marketing side be affected by the Covid-19 situation in place?
Abhik: Clubs will have to take up unique ways to ensure that their messages go across to the fans, who won’t be present at the stadium, digital marketing will have a huge role to play. Social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter will be extremely crucial to make the fans feel connected with the players, even though they are far away. The amount of content can be put out is immense and there is a huge scope for innovation, a lot of teams have already started adapting, so this promises to be a unique year for marketing in this aspect.
SC: Playing in front of empty stands - how is that going to affect the players?
Abhik: I think initially it is going to be (tough)… football is played for the fans, that’s what the players always want - to play in front of people, but I said earlier, but everyone is grateful that the tournament is happening after all and slowly but slowly and surely, they would get used to it and at the end of the day, it won’t be a huge factor.
SC: Do you feel the absence of home advantage will be detrimental to clubs that have a huge fan following?
Abhik: Of-course, yes. The fans are the stadium act as the 12th man when the team is down, giving them energy, unsettling the opponent, so thing there would be some sort of effect that will take place but every team is trying hard to overcome the mental challenge, that mental barrier and this year all the teams will be on even keel because they will be no fans in the stadium and only three venues to play in. This year would be more tougher and closely contested ISL.
SC: The organizers have allotted practice grounds for each team which will be different from using facilities at home. Has it been a hassle or a smooth transition?
Abhik: It takes time to get used to these things, but I think that the Sports Authority and those involved has tried to give us the best possible conditions to make that transition, there will be some hiccups along the way, but hopefully, with time, there will be a smooth transition and teams will be able to adapt to the situation.
SC: Finally, with all six foreigners recruited, have your plans turned out as you wanted them to be?
Abhik: I think the coach has identified the foreigners that he wanted in the team and thought that would reflect in his brand of football. The foreign coach recruitment has been exclusively driven by the head coach Stuart Baxter, and we are very confident that the footballers will embody his style of football and execute his tactics and leave the imprint on the young Indian boys we have. Our coach is very comfortable with the players that he wanted and brought in this year.