You can call me mad, crazy, whatever... but I’m a fan,” exclaims 28-year-old, Bangalore-based Arun Raghu, who has achieved what many of us dream of doing every day — turning passion into a profession. Raghu, who gave up a flourishing career in the advertising industry, is now the force behind FansOnStands, a company which will try to fulfil the dream of any sports fan — getting a ringside seat to watch your favourite sporting action unfold in front of your eyes. The almost year-old venture is the first of its kind dedicated to sports tourism in India and has in a short span of time grown to employ nine people, with offices in Mumbai, Bangalore, Colombo, London and an online presence.
Watching prime sporting action live in different parts of the world, especially if you are based in India, has never been an easy proposition. Unaffordable and often unattainable event tickets is one big hurdle. Then there is all the planning for travel and stay that has to be done. “A travel agency only fits things into a budget. But what a sports fan needs is the best seat in the house,” says Raghu.
He describes his first experience as a spectator at the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix in 2009. To be at the racing circuit, he says, was “an emotional moment” , accentuated by seeing Kimi Raikkonen in a red Ferrari. A desire to make such an experience possible for fellow sports enthusiasts made him start FansOnStands.com, sometime towards the middle of 2009.
Till then, he had had a chequered career. He had started working in Mysore, even when he was still in school because his father wanted him to learn the “value of money”. Post-college, he sold software to small traders and was soon off to Dubai to work as an analyst with World Trading Services for what he describes as a “luxurious” stint, but one that ended with him feeling he was “chasing money”. He then plunged into the advertising industry with Grey, earning Rs 10,000 a month as a fresher but quickly learnt the ropes and moved on to Visa, Mudra and finally JWT, before he decided to follow his heart.
“A couple of decades ago, cricket was the only sport covered by the media, followed by hockey and athletics. The only other sport you could watch, in third person, was on the World Of Sport programme on Doordarshan. Today there is a virtual media explosion. I like cricket, but I feel there are things beyond it. Youth today are connected globally. Actually being present at one’s favourite sporting event is a dream,” says Raghu, who is a fan of Formula One and football.
Attending a sporting event, especially abroad, is not like planning a holiday, explains Raghu. The first priority is to get tickets to the event, and these are normally sold out. You can buy tickets on the black market on websites such as eBay, but Raghu says you would do this at your own risk, as the Internet is awash with fake tickets. Also, some sporting events print tickets with the buyer’s name for identification checks and some countries insist on an original ticket with a buyer’s name before a visa is issued to enter the country where the event is being held. “Sports tourism as a segment is very old in Europe. In India, it exists only as a freebie given by corporates or you have a ‘one in a million’ paying fan. I wanted a complete integrated solution for fans,” says Raghu.
Raghu divides spectators, into two broad categories — corporates and fans. For fans who want to (and can afford to) see their favourite sporting event live, Raghu acts as facilitator. The key here is indeed the affordability as “large sums of money” need to be spent to watch a premier sporting event abroad. Raghu says that he first tries to get the best seat possible depending on the fan’s budget, and then finds the best deals on airlines and hotels to make the trip a complete package. For instance, in working out a deal, he would try to get you a seat on the first corner of a grand prix circuit (the best seat to view the action) but then you would need to travel on a low-cost airline and you may not get a star-rated stay option. Further he says he is trying to tie-up up with financial institutions for EMI options. “This segment is new in Indian travel, but how is it any different than paying EMIs for an overseas holiday package?” he asks.
For corporates meanwhile, it is the best seats in the house and plush hospitality options, coupled with value for money. It almost always includes star-rated hotels, and if required luxury transport options. “For corporates on a team-building outing, watching a F1pit lane in action, is a great example of teamwork. When entertaining a client, even a prospective one, you can build one-on-one relationships through sport. I have found that Formula One and football works best with Europeans, while golf connects with CEOs globally. In India, a mix of cricket and golf always works,” Raghu explains.
The pick of Raghu’s offering for sports enthusiasts right now is definitely the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He has tied up with Match Hospitality, the firm which has the exclusive rights to sell hospitality for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, to sell hospitality packages in the Middle East, South Asia and Asia Pacific, a total of 25 countries. He says he has options for the individual fan, who might want to follow a particular team’s progress or attend a specific match. Corporate buyers can choose from FIFA hospitality packages, all of which include the “best seats, wining and dining included”.
The sporting calendar at FansOnStands.com for 2010 also includes Formula One races in Malaysia and Singapore, the Ryder Cup in golf and the English Premier League and Spanish La Liga in football. Raghu hopes to add the T20 Cricket World Cup in Barbados and golf tournaments in Japan and Korea. “We will add one property at a time. It takes time because we don’t just buy tickets and hawk it, we tie-up with official hospitality rights holders for the best experience,” says Raghu. He is also keen to explore to rope in the Indian Premier League.
But here’s the best part. In 2011, Raghu may offer motorsport fans a Ferrari pilgrimage. It will include the Formula One race at the Monza circuit, the Ferrari museum, a factory visit, and getting to drive a Ferrari. Now isn’t that something to save up for?
YOU COULD BE THERE
FIFA WORLD CUP 2010, SOUTH AFRICA
(All ticket prices for football and golf are subject to currency rate fluctuations, and transport and hospitality will be on actuals at the time of booking)