Football is the second most popular sport in India after cricket. Sounds unbelievable, but it’s true! Rarely does a domestic football match witness empty stands something that even a Ranji Trophy cricket match can’t boast of. But, even then, the All India Football Federation has struggled with the marketability of its premier product the I-League. Sponsors have hardly stuck around for long, and the product’s packaging for a TV audience hasn’t been good enough.
Here’s where the inaugural Indian Super League makes a dashing entry, almost like a hint of spice to the otherwise bland recipe dished out in the name of domestic football here.
Over the next 70 days, India’s hitherto unheralded footballers will brush shoulders with some of world football’s top names (though most of the foreigners are past their prime) like Nicholas Anelka, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljunberg, David James, Alessandro Del Piero, among others representing eight domestic teams Atletico de Kolkata, Mumbai City FC, NorthEast United, Kerala Blasters FC, Delhi Dynamos, FC Pune City, FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC some with foreign affiliations and backed by top corporate houses. But, most importantly there’s a Bollywood tadka thrown in, and rarely does a Bollywood-sports combo go wrong. Ask the BCCI, who unleashed cricketainment in the form of the Indian Premier League in 2008 and are reaping its rewards till date. The AIFF has done well to follow suit. With India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani at the heart of it, ISL’s intention cannot be doubted, and with leading promoters International Management Group and broadcasters Star Sports, the execution could hardly go wrong either.
If yesterday’s lavish Opening Ceremony at Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium is any indication, ISL has kicked off with a bang. Now it’s up to the AIFF to draft a plan to leverage ISL’s popularity, which, in turn, can rub off on the domestic scene and better still at the grassroots level. Unless the fruits of ISL’s multi-million dollar initiative are reaped by the younger generation, Indian football will continue to languish well beyond the 150-mark in the world!