Borussia Dortmund's plan to send a legends team to India has been put on hold at the moment due to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting overseas travel restrictions.
As reported by Firstpost in August last year, the German side was planning on sending a legends team to India to play matches as part of their outreach for the Indian market. The pandemic has meant that the club has had to modify their plans for the pre-season, not just for India.
BVB has had to scrap plans to send their first squad to a three-nation tour of China, Japan and Singapore, and will instead be conducting a virtual tour later this month of Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo the first heavyweight team from the top European football leagues to announce such a plan.
"Yes, we were due to play the legends game (in India), but due to the coronavirus pandemic, no one's allowed to travel. But we will fulfil that obligation of bringing a team to India (in the future) because football is ever-growing in India," Suresh Letchmanan, Borussia Dortmund's Managing Director for Asia-Pacific, told Firstpost on Thursday.
Dortmund's legends team has previously played in Asian countries like Hong Kong (against Liverpool legends team in June last year) and Thailand (against the legends team of Buriram United in 2018).
"Due to the constraints and restrictions of travelling, we have to be extremely focussed in the markets we want to be present in. But India are definitely a market we are always trying to grow (in) and be present in. India are one of the most important markets for us. As soon as we get clearances, we will start planning for an opportunity for the legends team to be present in India," Letchmanan added.
The club, which finished second in the Bundesliga this season, will do a virtual tour in China, Japan and Singapore this year, countries which they had originally planned to physically travel to in the off-season. This was to be BVB's first pre-season trip to Asia after two years of them travelling westwards.
As part of the virtual tour, the club will facilitate virtual meetings for fans with players besides having live streams of training sessions and even friendly matches in the build-up to the upcoming Bundesliga season.
On being asked why India were not chosen for the virtual tour, Benedikt Scholz, who heads Dortmund's international department, said: "(While planning the virtual tour) We focused on the countries we were planning to travel to physically before the coronavirus pandemic hit, to be very honest. We want to be as specific as possible, as tailor-made as possible with this virtual tour. That's why we've focussed on these three locations."
The fact that the team has offices in China and Singapore also helps the club with on-ground activities, when flying in from Europe to Asia is not advisable.
"It is a challenging time for all of us but we want to make the most of it. Accessibility and personal contact are not possible these days, so we want to have personal contact via digital and virtual means. Our ambition is to be as close as possible even with a distance of thousands of kilometres between us, to give fans the feeling that we're committed to supporting you with your needs," said Scholz.
While Dortmund already have local partners in India in the form of W1 Sports to look at grassroots, the club was also looking at partnering with an Indian Super League or an I-League team in India. COO of BVB, Carsten Cramer, had told Firstpost in August that the club was not particularly concerned with whether the team was playing in the Indian Super League or the I-League.
Scholz added that club is planning tailor-made activities for fans in India at the moment. "We're absolutely aware of the craziness of people for football. There is one other sport in India, I know. We're closely following the local leagues, both leagues, actually. We're dedicated and committed to reach out more and exchange more with Indians."
Asia forms a major market for top European clubs, given the population, which then translates into commercial opportunities. This is the reason European clubs have been making a beeline for Asia for decades.
Scholz said that when he joined BVB in 2010, there wasn't 'a lot of thinking' about international markets. The club was still reeling from their financial crisis and had more pressing necessities. But the signing of Japan's Shinji Kagawa and his success at the German club opened the door for the club to find newer fanbases.
"That was probably the door-opener for us to Asia. Since then we have been travelling to Asia. For us, it's a lot about personal relations. That's why Asia for us is the right place to be¦ probably even more than other regions like the USA," said Scholz. "We want to do things authentically. We don't want to just fly in and fly out, say 'hello', wave a little bit and leave. We do not pretend to be a global club¦we do not try to reach out to all global markets worldwide. When we come, we will do it right."
Given the coronavirus pandemic, many European clubs are hurting financially due to funds drying up from match-day attendance, and commercial activities. Even revenue from broadcasters is expected to take a hit. In such circumstances, have Asian fan bases assumed more importance for clubs?
"We've felt an effect of the situation. But if you look at all our commercial partners are long-term partners. There's loyalty on both sides. Not one single partnership has come to an end or has been truly questioned during the pandemic. I wouldn't say that Asian territories have become more important because we have always been committed to Asia. It's not about putting one market over the other, just about making the best of the current challenging situation," said Scholz.