As we all know cricket is the mainstream sport in India. European football has much more popularity and fan base than one can expect. FIFA has been lending a hand in improving football in India.
Visits of Bayern Munchen, Argentina and Venezuela are the example. FC Barcelona’s India camp in this summer may also open some footballing avenues in India.
There might be many football fans in India but “many” as such does not imply any significance in the Indian context given the population (even if there are a million die-hard fans, its less than 0.1% of the population).
Indian football as such is not as popular as Badminton, Tennis or Hockey and not even close to Cricket except in some parts like Kerala, Kolkata or Pune.
Indian football comprises fans of football clubs in West Bengal, and maybe Kerala and Goa, and do not have more than a local following. The national team is pretty much unknown to those outside the team and its administration.
The larger chunk of football fans is those who follow European club football. They are mainly school and college students from metropolitan cities who are too hipster to follow the mainstream sport which is cricket. These fans usually tend to overstate the popularity of football in India.
Cricket is pretty much the only sport which can be called popular in India.
Few reasons are:
1) India does well in cricket: The fact that India has produced some internationally-acclaimed achievers in the sport adds to the appeal, allowing for more aspirations leading to more popularity.
2) There are arguments that cricket is easier to watch or follow than other more “fluid” sports like football. In the early days before television, one had to rely on the radio for sports updates, and a discrete game like cricket is much more compatible with radio commentary.
3) Cricket has a certain sophisticated appeal to most Indians. It is a non-aggressive game with intricate rules, allowing for more real-time strategy and value of experience than just youthful athleticism.
Other sports which have some resemblance of popularity in India are tennis and chess.