Abhinav Anand
Brands and Sports marketing

Ancient rivalry and international recognitions fire up Hero ISL as they get ready for kickoff

With the inclusion of Asia’s most renowned football rivalry, Hero ISL this year is set to give an unmatched experience to their football fans.

After the high impact comeback made by IPL during this pandemic ridden year, all eyes are now on India's foremost football league Hero ISL. Since its inception in 2014, where on one side the league has contributed a massive share in growing and strengthening the love for the game, on the other, it offers the budding talents a global-matched platform to showcase their skills. With the league gearing up to kick-off soon, social media platforms have already started building up on the anticipation. Over the years Hero ISL has constantly moved closer towards a world-class grandeur and today is counted amongst one of the top football leagues in Asia. For the last 6 seasons, the league has constantly recorded a spike in - growth and glory.

The updates of the upcoming season have already got the internet buzzing with all kinds of chatter. From topics ranging from player/coach signings for the new season to recollecting memories from old games, the buzz on social media has definitely started building momentum. This chatter on the internet gives us a glimpse into the anticipation of fans for the upcoming season, their excitement to see their favourite player play and experience the rivalry of their teams.

Noida-based Etash Singh, a software consultant at a renowned IT firm is a supporter of Mumbai City FC. In a conversation with him about how Hero ISL has restructured the landscape of football in India, he shares “I feel that Hero ISL has brought Indians closer to the sport of football. While there are substantial individuals in the country who follow international football leagues, having a league of our own brings out a completely different energy. I have been watching Hero ISL since its inaugural season and it fills me with immense pride and gives me great joy that our own football league that has brought legends like Carlos Marchena, David Trezeguet, Alessandro Nesta, Alessandro del Piero and several others to the Indian soil to play football.”

The broadcast numbers of Hero ISL speak great volumes of the position that the league holds in the nation. As reported by BARC, Hero ISL 2019-20 had recorded a 51% growth in viewership. With 28 billion mins consumed, 168 million live match reach, 213 million video views and over 75 million interactions achieved in the last season of Hero ISL, the reach of the league is noteworthy and accurately indicates the potential of football in India in the near future. Having factors like search interest for the league doubling with each passing year and the average search interest for Hero ISL being ahead of La Liga in India, they have constantly been escalating their benchmark for reach and impact among the Indian audience. Hero ISL also saw the matchday mentions of the league grow from 274k in the 5th season to 372k in season 6 indicating the steady growth in viewership per year.

As far as the reach of football in India is concerned, one IP which has been responsible and backed the league are the Team Fan Clubs. These are closely knit groups of people who share the same level of interest in the league while supporting a particular team, ranging from the heartbeat of Kerala Blasters - Manjappada Club to the West Block Blues at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium for the Bengaluru F.C. While trying to understand their functioning and learning about their eagerness to the league, Rahul Rawat, a core member of Dynamos Ultras fan club revealed. The Dynamos Ultras which used to be a fan club of Delhi's team Delhi Dynamos, this year they stand neutral as Delhi no longer has an Hero ISL team. "We'll be completely neutral about whoever lifts the trophy. We'll just be hoping for better performances from all the Indian players. Hero ISL has done great things for the Indian football, they have brought in the glitter and glamour into the game. This has certainly made football popular again in India in a crucial time." says Rawat.

Adarsh Singh, the core member of West Coast Brigade tells us about their journey of establishing the official supporters of Mumbai City F.C. “When Hero ISL was launched in 2014, we were the first-ever officially recognized supporters club in the Indian Super League. Back then, we used to be known as Mumbai City FC Supporters Club, which got rechristened to West Coast Brigade before the Hero ISL 2018-19 season. The thought was to bring more of an identity element to the supporters club, and what better way to denote it than 'West Coast' signifying where we are, and 'Brigade' referring to the Mumbai City fanbase,” said Singh.

When asked about how he would define an Hero ISL fan and how they are different from fans of other sports, this is what Singh had to say, “When we talk about an ideal Hero ISL fan, I would say it's too early to define a benchmark as such. I believe the Hero ISL watching audience is still maturing, and people are still trying to settle down, but are getting more engaged with their club and fellow fans day by day. I believe it will still take a few more seasons for an Hero ISL fan to be as connected and emotionally attached to his club, as a fan is to a club like Manchester United or Real Madrid. But trust me, that moment is just around the corner. Like fans, I feel even most clubs haven't yet figured themselves out when it comes to identifying the sets of people they want to target and engage with. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done, to get familiar with what a fan expects, and what a club is delivering.”

The age of digitalization has indeed come true, even for the segment of sports. “I've seen fan clubs become more and more active and vocal on their social media channels. Even though stadium presence would be a big miss, I'm sure we all will have a steady workaround ready, by the time Hero ISL kicks off this season. I'm not sure yet, but I'm confident we'll figure out ways like digital screenings and so on, to make sure we can replicate the atmosphere online, and watch our favorite team along with fellow members of the West Coast Brigade.”

Hero ISL also recently added another feather to their cap, they became the first league from South Asia to be inducted into the prestigious World Leagues Forum. The WLF functions closely with global body FIFA on the development of professional football. This association of professional football leagues also includes the likes of the Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga, amongst others.

Adding to the already building excitement, the highlight of this season will be Hero ISL laying the platform for the most fierce football rivalry prevalent in Asia. The Boro match, as fondly called by Kolkatans, the rivalry between East Bengal F.C. and Mohun Bagan F.C. With a legacy of over 95 years, this rivalry is now a part of the Hero ISL as Mohun Bagan merged with ATK F.C. and East Bengal F.C. making their debut, this historic rivalry has added more enthusiasm among followers of the football league.

With the social chatter around the league accumulating at a rapid pace, fans and fan clubs across the country are eagerly waiting for the league to kick-off. The inclusion of Asia’s biggest football rivalry in Hero ISL has also amplified the anticipation among the viewers. With enthusiasm gradually brewing with each passing day, this can be taken as an indicator of Hero ISL’s 2020-21 season overtaking all previous viewership records. Being at a phase where people have slowly started going out and things have started opening up, this can be the ideal turnaround point for all football enthusiasts to get back into the groove of enjoying a game of their favourite teams playing.