In one of his interviews Baichung Bhutia mentioned that ‘we (AIFF) need to do a lot with our official website’. Apparently AIFF was in the process of revamping the website around the same time Baichung did this interview, around February last year.

After watching his interview on YouTube I visited the AIFF website and Baichung’s words instantly rang in my head – We really need to do a lot with AIFF website.

A few days ago I was talking to a friend of mine about explosion of Football (Soccer) in USA after the World Cup they hosted and after re launching their professional league (MLS).

You may wonder why I am discussing US Soccer here. The reason being Soccer in USA was not a popular sport. Soccer trails behind Baseball, Basketball, Ice Hockey and American Football and a lot further down in the pecking order of sports popularity.

However, if you look at the growth of the game in the last 10 years , It is rather easy to conclude that Soccer has managed a sustained growth – the results are evident US Soccer players playing in UK and Europe, US Women’s National team winning world cup’s, US Men’s National team’s outstanding performances in the World Cup and Confederation Cup (Where they beat Spain in the Semis) – not only that but US Soccer has also managed to stay connected with the fans via their highly interactive website and social media initiatives.

In my opinion the US Soccer website is the best sports based (club, association, athlete, retail) website and can be a case study for other sports associations and governing bodies all over the world.

Indian football today has moved up a few paces and while we bask in the glory of winning trophies, our players going for trials in Europe, Asia Pacific , MLS and AIFF managing to attract Sponsors – Having a well structured website with a good user experience and information should be our first priority.

Our current website is informative in terms of league; cup’s and club information but when it comes to engaging a fan or potential sponsors our website fails big time.

I have listed 5 points that AIFF can learn from US Soccer in order to build a interactive website and
integrated Online strategy (SEM AND Social Media)

1. Lay Out (also includes look and feel) – In my opinion AIFF needs to change the website lay out from centred to full screen width with good use of colours and typography just like the US Soccer site. Another striking feature on the US Soccer site is optimum use of the home page in promoting the Mens, Women’s teams and other information related to coaching etc. AIFF website layout is rigid and very boring – I can assume that the bounce rate of AIFF website should be very high as the home page is very boring with a horrible jquery slider, poor quality images and horrid logos.

My Suggestion: Website over haul is absolutely crucial.

2. Navigation – US Soccer’s Navigation is top quality. Their website just like AIFF’s has a lot of content and a huge load on Navigation. However, US Soccer has built a static navigation bar with access to Men, Women, Youth and Academy pages.

My Suggestion: Reduce the clutter and use the space properly to showcase our initiatives in Men, Women and Youth Football – Good to give out overall information to prospective sponsors on the website.

3. E Commerce – As Internet penetration grows in India e-commerce will start improving too. AIFF must set up a e-commerce site and sell merchandise of the National team online. US Soccer website has a shop tab where fans can buy merchandise and also chat with the sales team.

My Suggestion: Chat functionality on the shop page may help in increasing sales as we Indians need to talk to someone before buying anything. Secondly, If AIFF cannot handle the Shop they must outsource it already established online shops from India.

4. Interactivity – I rate AIFF’s website Zero when it comes to holding Fan attention simply because there is no element of interactivity in the website at all. Football is a game with unlimited content. If I were managing the AIFF online strategy, I would make sure there was a lot of video content on the website. Video content by AIFF, the clubs and the fans can be a great source of interactivity between the association, clubs and the fans.

My Suggestion: AIFF must add videos of games, goals, interviews, contests, crowd sourced videos, training session videos, management interviews etc. AIFF must allocate budgets to clubs or give them equipment to shoot videos (involve Reliance IMG’s in house production team to create small videos) something on the lines of video magazines.

5. Social Media Optimization – Connecting with fans is the main objective of having an online presence. AIFF has failed miserably in connecting with the fans. The website has no space for fans nor does it have any social media presence. AIFF needs to create presence on social network sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Flickr, Foursquare and Blogs.

My Suggestion: Get on to these networks and engage fans through polls, contests, sweepstakes, community and crowd sourced content. Invest in good ORM tools and monitor what fans are talking about football in India. Invite fans to write blogs, create contests…just a few tips on what can be done to get fans involved.

As a football fan I hope these suggestions are taken on board by AIFF and I hope they implement these ideas and reach out to the millions of India football fans all over the world.

Websites: US Soccer – http://www.ussoccer.com/  AIFF – http://www.the-aiff.com/

5 lessons the AIFF can learn from US Soccer

by Nilesh Deshmukh time to read: 5 min