1996 saw the birth of the first ever National league in India, ‘The National Football League’. The inaugural season was a grand success as spectators flocked to the stadium in huge numbers to cheer for their team. As it was a tournament which spanned for about half the year, it was different from the other tournaments which were in existence back then. The sudden rise in momentum due to the new league was too much to handle for AIFF and lost control of it within a few years. Poor management and lack of promotion meant that the spectator interest went down so badly, that the only option that remained was to shut down the league.
Then came the I League in 2007 which was very successfully organised, paid handsome salaries to the players, and focused a lot on youth development. Being a new tournament, the initial years saw good turnouts for matches, and the clubs also performed well in Asian tournaments with the help of some quality foreigners. All was going well untill 2010, when the deal between AIFF and IMG-Reliance was struck. Sponsorships reduced, and the crowd turnout also started going down. Finally, 4 years later, the IPL style ‘Indian Super League’ was born.
With tens of crores of money pumped in by the franchises, the glamourous tournament kicked off in grand styles with excellent turnouts for the first two seasons. One reason for that would obviously be the amount of marketing done to attract spectators. But the other reason is, that being a new tournament, it had the same feel as that of the NFL and I League in their initial years. Huge turnouts initially, but a gradual decline over the next few seasons, and that is exactly what is happening with India’s youngest, IPL style, Pan India, one city-one team tournament….!!! The initial couple of seasons saw the likes of David Trezguet, Robert Pires, Bernard Mendy, Florent Malouda, Andre Santos and other stars.
Since it was just a 3 month long tournament, it was easy to get those players to sign holiday type contracts. With the league expanded to 5 months this season, the decline, which was evident is being exposed. Only Goa and Kerala have managed to attract handsome crowds. Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati have seen massive drop in attendance, which is a matter of concern for the organizers. The problem with Guwahati could be the change in kick off timings this season, which has been moved to 8 PM. Delhi has never been able to match the craze it used to have decades ago when the city hosted the reputed tournaments like Durand Cup and the DCM Trophy. Kolkata, from registering near full houses, haven’t been able to fill even a quarter of the stadium.
ISL is a good project, but has been implemented in a poor manner. Splashing millions of dollars for 3 months was never a good idea. Expanding the league forced the franchises to cut down costs by recruiting lower quality foreigners and of course, lowering there amount of marketing and advertisement. This has been the major cause for the decline this season. The promotional advertisements on TV have reduced by such a great extent, that many people did not even realise that the tournament has kicked off. Many fans complained of drop in quality as well. The I League on the other hand, with minimal marketing, and odd kick off timings, has attracted handsome crowds and the quality on display has been much better than the ISL
The latest point to be noticed about promotional activity is that Star Network is telecasting ISL in just one language. This is nothing but another nail that could well go into the coffin. Many experts had expected this decline long before the tournament kicked off. The I League has shown this season that splashing money isn’t the only way to improve quality. IMGR badly lack vision to effectively utilise what is available improve football in the country. Their attempt to kill the existing state Leagues in the country is an outcome of their lack of vision. It is high time that they realise ISL is declining to become another NFL in disguise. Some say the I League was a failure. But the fact is, they it wasn’t…!!!