By Abhishek Roy IANS | 7 months ago

Is the All India Football Federation (AIFF) looking for an image makeover with the Indian Super League (ISL)? Does it honestly believe it will give a push to the sport in the country?


The ISL appears to be a haven for yesteryears stars like Theiry Henry, Robbie Fowler and Raul Gonzalez, much as the Indian Premier League (IPL) was for former internationals in the first two editions. They may dazzle the spectators for a quarter of an hour or so. Is that enough for football to achieve the status the AIFF is seeking to give it?

Then there is the important question: If the ISL is seen as a panacea for all the ills of Indian football, what happens to the much-touted I-League which, as of now, is the only source of income for active footballers in the country?

Can the country afford two premier leagues when the big-time I-League clubs have been a bit too enthusiastic about releasing players for the ISL? It is a different matter that the I-League has not covered itself in glory.

Curiously, the International Management Group (IMG)-Reliance, the commercial partners of the AIFF, have stakes in both the ISL and the I-League.

To the credit of IMG-Reliance, it has been highly enterprising in promoting the ISL, unlike the I-League, since inking a Rs.700 crore (Rs.70 billion/$1.1 billion) deal for 15 years with the AIFF in 2010. This, despite AIFF president Praful Patel's assurances that the I-League will remain India's main pro league.

Surprisingly, four corporate-owned I-League clubs - Pune FC of pharmaceutical giant Piramal Group, Jindal-Steel's Bengaluru FC, and teams of corporate houses Salgaocar and Dempo - have shown interest in owning ISL franchises.

IMG-Reliance is trying to persuade East Bengal and Mohun Bagan to jointly bid for a team. Though the two Kolkata giants are still pondering over the proposal, another Kolkata club, Mohammedan Sporting, reportedly is also eager to own a franchise.

Corporates have finally realised that the I-League has not served the purpose for which it was started and two big corporate teams, Mahindra United and JCT, did not waste much time in disbanding their squads after assessing their financial losses.

Another interesting question: How many franchisees can own teams in both leagues? That is a call the clubs will have to take and they will wait to see the success or otherwise of the ISL in the first year.

An I-League club on an average shells out Rs.13 crore to Rs. 18 crore annually to run a team, while the minimum base price of an ISL franchise is Rs. 12 crore a year for 10 years. The players' salaries in the ISL will be clear when they quote their base prices and how much they go for under the hammer.

The primary task of the IMG-Reliance is to impress upon the franchisees that their investments were well worth it and not what JCT honcho Sameer Thapar dubbed as "negligible exposure" while disbanding his 40-year-old club.

The ISL also promises a hefty pay package for the Indian players. On average, an I-league player earns Rs.20 lakh to Rs.25 lakh and if he is a national team player, the package goes up to Rs.50 lakh for a seven-month tournament.

In comparison, the ISL promises a hefty package to players for playing for just two months.

With Star India as the telecast partner, the ISL also promises to grab more eyeballs than the I-League, which is covered by Ten Sports.

The ISL seems to be on the right track to improve the profile of the sport in the country, but its success could well sound the death knell of the I-League.

(Abhishek Roy is Principal Correspondent of IANS and the views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at abhishek.roy at ians.in)

(Posted on 13-03-2014)

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