New Delhi: India's fledgling football league has become the fourth most popular in the world after just six weeks, surpassing Italy's long-standing Serie A in average crowd attendance, according to organisers.
The Indian Super League (ISL) has lured former international veterans such as Sweden's Freddie Ljungberg, Frenchman Nicolas Anelka and Italian great Alessandro Del Piero for the 10-week competition.
The league, played around the country, has been hit by injuries to some of its biggest stars, while some football experts have questioned the quality of the matches.
Cricket dominates on the subcontinent, and football at the grassroots level has long been neglected. But organisers said more than one million fans have turned out, with an average match attendance of 24,357, making it the fourth most popular football league behind Germany's Bundesliga, the English Premier League and Spain's La Liga and ahead of Serie A.
"We have always believed that the sport of football, if given the right platform, has the potential for tremendous growth in India," an ISL spokesman said late Thursday.
Backed by some of the biggest names in business and sport, the league is modelled on cricket's glitzy Indian Premier League. Bollywood A-listers and cricket stars are co-owners of the eight city-based football franchises, while Rupert Murdoch's Star TV is broadcasting the games.
India has always fared poorly in world football rankings and currently stands at 159 out of 208 countries. But FIFA chief Sepp Blatter has dubbed the world's second most populous country the sleeping giant of football.