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POV: Can Media and Money Change Football in India?

By Devesh Gupta , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Marketing | May 16, 2014
The IMG-STAR India-Reliance Indian Super League, scheduled to begin in September, has attracted Rs 400 crore in investments. Can this kickstart a football revolution in the country?

Indian Super League (ISL) that was announced in April will see its first season being played in September. The eight franchises for ISL are owned by Bollywood celebs, former Indian cricketers and business houses, including Sachin Tendulkar, John Abraham and Videocon Industries.

The league will see an investment of more than Rs 400 crore on marketing, infrastructure development, broadcast, acquisition of players (both domestic and international) and others. It is also expected to attract advertisers targeting the masses.

Football does not have the cult status enjoyed by cricket in India, its appeal still being restricted to a few pockets and niche audiences. India ranks 145th in FIFA rankings. But, with ISL creating the huge corpus of money and star pull, followed by extensive media coverage and marketing, will the situation of the game change in the country, attracting larger fan following? Will it generate the necessary traction and create heroes?

Sanjay Gupta

Sameer Manchanda

Bunty Sajdeh

P M Balakrishna

Siddhanth Aney

Sanjay Gupta, COO, STAR India

If we are able to do well in the next 10-12 years, India can probably send a team to the World Cup in 2026. With ISL, the sport will grow not just in viewership but in the quality of the players and that of the game. India can go beyond its current global ranking. In cricket, we have invested a lot of money in the game, infrastructure and players that makes every kid dream of being a cricketer. In my opinion, star power will give viewership but not the experience of a match. No Indian star is popular as of now but the ones from outside are known better and they will inspire thousands when they play.

Sameer Manchanda, MD and chairman, DEN Networks

With large corporates coming in, a huge corpus of money has been created, which is far higher than what used to be there for Indian football in the past. There will be professional managers, physiotherapists, trainers and experts similar to those of IPL. There will be better infrastructure, better and more stories will be out in the media, people will talk about both domestic and international players. With STAR India, the broadcast quality will be better than what India has ever seen for domestic football.

IMG, Reliance and STAR India are the right mix of people needed to develop and promote the sport in India. Soccer is a game made for television. We have taken the bet so now we will have to put the effort in changing the scenario.

Bunty Sajdeh, CEO, Cornerstone Sport and Entertainment

If there is any other sport that can be bolstered via media and money in India, I will bet on football. This league will be a platform where the game can be showcased. Today, Indians are hungry for their athletes to win laurels at international events. The way IPL has been conceptualised, marketed and portrayed has made it bigger than any other league in the world. The media can definitely act as a great catalyst. ISL has the right mix of talent on and off the field, if they stick to keeping it professional. Every league needs marketing.

P M Balakrishna, COO, Allied Media, Percept Group

In India, football is at a very nascent stage and a professional league like this will definitely create a momentum. ISL will help local football stars play with international stars. Once media starts showcasing them, the hype and publicity will bring in money and experts. Talent will start getting recognised at school level. The best part is that the federations that are involved, league owners and others have deep pockets. They have a good understanding of how to penetrate and create a good breeding ground for footballers. Once the buzz gets louder, there will be many allied revenue streams that will grow such as merchandising, on-ground activation and others.

Siddhanth Aney, editor, Sports Illustrated India

Yes it can. But there are doubts and question marks about how ISL is organised and whether it will benefit the Indian team. It is not possible for a country to have multiple leagues. I League is the chosen one and I'd have put the effort behind it, not create a parallel league. Football in India cannot get worse. There are small things which are good such as Ten Sports broadcasting the I League or Bangalore FC winning it. Or the attendance the games of Shillong Lajong gets. This shows that it is possible to build connect with fans. With money, the standard of media coverage will improve.

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