All the failed attempts of the past and delays in launching a ‘major’ football league in India could turn out to be blessings in disguise for the sport. Scheduled to launch in October, the Indian Super League (ISL) couldn’t have been timed better.
The FIFA World Cup 2014 was the most watched football tournament in the country, with a viewership of 62 million (source: Sony Six) till the semi-final stage. This was despite kick-off times in Brazil being unfavourable for Indian audiences. The number of brands that added to the buzz was more than what we’ve seen in the past. And the rub off post the tournament is also evident from the number of kids playing soccer outdoors.
Football didn’t just beam into homes in the middle of the night, it also pervaded social media conversations like never before. According to an infographic released by video advertising player Vdopia, 2,50,000 unique viewers from India visited football sites everyday via mobile during the FIFA World Cup. There were 672 million tweets related to the World Cup during the tournament, according to the Twitter blog. Of these, 1.46 per cent originated from India, ranking it seventh overall. To give a sense of the larger picture, World Cup winner Germany does not feature in the top eight on this count.
Keeping the buzz alive
To say that a critical mass of viewers for the ‘sport’ has been achieved may be inaccurate, because the World Cup would generate far more viewership per match than any other tournament, including the English Premier League. But this is a good place to be in, for a fledgling league.
Having said that, the World Cup ended on 13 July. The two-month long ISL is slated to kick off in October 2014. Organisers need to keep the buzz alive in the country. And they seem to be hitting the right chords and getting some much needed traction.
Announcements on marquee players joining some of the ISL clubs were made during the World Cup. Spanish national Luis Garcia will play for Atheletico de Kolkata, while his team mate Joan Capdevila will take the field for North East United. For the uninitiated, Garcia was part of the UEFA Champions League-winning Liverpool outfit in 2005, while Capdevila was in Spain’s World Cup (2010) and Euro-winning (2008) squads. These kept the tournament in the news when football made (arguably) the biggest sports news in the country.
A week after the end of the World Cup, the ISL has stayed in the news, thanks to its player draft (picking of teams) system on the lines of the US-based MLS. With the international transfer window open from July to September, websites are also reporting transfers now - including those of players joining the ISL.
So what happens between the time the player drafts happen and the commencement of the tournament? The big European football leagues start from 9 August. Teams, organisers and brands associated with the tournament have to look at leveraging this period.
It helps that the Indian cricket team isn’t in action from mid-September to end-November. It also helps that its next tour is down under.
The tournament has faced teething problems with delays standing out as the main issue. One cannot expect this league, in its first season, to turn things around for the sport, and make it a clear number two or a challenger to cricket on viewership.
Success is a relative word. It truly is for this league. To me, the ISL can only be deemed to be a success if it enters its fourth year. There will be other challenges that emerge, but then there will also be opportunities. The fourth edition of the ISL, in 2017, will follow the U-17 FIFA World Cup hosted by India. Could there be a better time than now for the ISL?
(Published in the issue of Campaign India dated 25 July 2014.)