When FIFA revealed the match schedule and timings for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Wednesday, fans of the beautiful game in India would most definitely have been left happy.
The timings of the matches are extremely favourable for Indian fans who watch football on television, despite a groupstage matchday featuring four games.
The first game will kick-off at 3:30 pm IST and the last game will kick off at 12:30 am IST (the next day in India). However, the second and third matches will both be consumed by a prime time evening broadcast audience in India, given that they start at 6:30 pm IST and 9:30 pm IST respectively.
The simultaneous kick-offs for the last round of group games will be 8:30 pm IST and 12:30 am IST (next day). The knockout stage matches are also likely to kick-off at a similar time slot as the last round of group games. The final will kick-off on 18 December 2022 at 8:30 pm IST.
Given that these are time slots that Indian fans spend time watching European football, World Cup 2022 will most certainly command a lot of viewers from the sub-continent.
It is not just those who follow European football who are tuned into the World Cup in India. Despite the Indian national team having never played the World Cup, the tournament has a really huge following with the average sports fan in the country, especially in football-crazy areas like Kerala, West Bengal, Goa and the North-East.
It is a common sight in these areas to see flags and banners of nations playing the World Cup, with people discussing the tournament with passion. It is a common sight in restaurants and shops during the World Cup to see customers and shopkeepers tuned into World Cup matches.
In major cities, you can even see cafes and restaurants even organise World Cup match screenings. In fact, even people who are not huge sports followers tune into the World Cup.
As per the Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC) data, the total cumulative reach for the World Cup 2018 on the Sony Pictures Networks (who had the broadcast rights in India) was a whopping 254 million viewers.
The final match between France vs Croatia, which kick-off at 12:30 am, was watched by 51.2 million viewers which was the highest for any World Cup match till date in India. Obviously, that viewership figures are expected to be even better this time around, given the conducive match timings.
However, the Qatar World Cup will appeal not just to television viewers in India but also those fans who make the ardent trip to experience the World Cup and watch the games live.
India was among the top 10 countries in terms of number of match tickets sold to fans for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. One can expect even more, if not similar, amount of fans to travel for the World Cup from India in 2022 as well.
One, there is very good connectivity between Qatar and India, given the number of direct flights to Doha from most major Indian cities. Also, Indian nationals have topped the international tourists' arrival in Qatar for the last few years including in 2019 (385,148 Indian nationals with UK nationals second placed at 133,418).
From 2017, Indian nationals have enjoyed visa on arrival entry status in the State of Qatar. Makes it all the more appealing.
There is also the fact that Qatar has a huge Indian diaspora. Indian nationals constitute more than 25 per cent of Qatar’s population.
Whether it be a TV viewing fan or a fan who wants to experience the thrill of a World Cup from India, 2022 World Cup in Qatar seems to be the ideal tournament.