Debashish Chakraborty
Brands and Sports marketing

Indian Super League: The reason behind India’s burgeoning growth in football

The upcoming 2020-21 season is expected to be the best ever with the hype around the first live event in India during the pandemic, Kolkata derby, global recognition and vote of confidence, and more.

Professional Football in India has a history of over 150 years. Surprising, isn’t it? Right from Mohun Bagan Athletic Club becoming the first Indian team to win the IFA (Indian Football Association) Shield in 1911 to Indian Football Team qualifying for 1950 Brazil World Cup to 2007 first Nehru Cup win, the Indian Football scene in India has come a really long way. But only in the last decade or so has the sport actually scored well - both on and off ground. And doubtlessly, one of the prime reasons for this splendid growth is the introduction of the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014 to Indian Football.

With over 10 football leagues and Cups currently operating in India, ISL has been a harbinger in giving the sport mainstream attention. It has played a crucial role in developing sporting infrastructure, pumping corporate investment, handshaking of international talent and coaches and reaching out to millions of households via a widespread broadcast network. Additionally, the league is known to provide thousands of young talented footballers a platform to showcase and hone their skills.

Experts believe that ISL has been a principal cause in the Indian Team’s improved FIFA ranking (From 173 in 2015 to 96 in 2017). “Since the ISL started, the Indian national team has gone from about 170th to 100th in the FIFA rankings, and Stephen Constantine has done a terrific job. I think that the ISL has played a part in it.” Steve Coppell said when working for Jamshedpur FC as a manager.

Season on season, ISL has emerged triumphant both in terms of audience engagement (reach) and attendance (on-ground & digital). As per a BARC report, ISL 2019-20 recorded a 51% growth in the viewership since the start of the season. The league also recorded 168 million live match reach and 28 billion minutes consumed in the last season. This year, the 2020-21 season starting from November 20, is expected to be the best run so far, primarily because of three reasons.

One, with the pandemic restricting movement, digital consumption has been myriad. The on-going IPL season is the perfect exemplar to draw comparisons as far as acceptance, viewership and growth is concerned. Two, ISL 2020-21 will be the first live sporting event to held on the home soil, therefore, the anticipation level is expected to be at an all-time high. Three, further elating the already building enthusiasm, this year’s East Bengal F.C. vs Mohun Bagan F.C. also known as the Kolkata derby or Boro Match is prophesied to surpass all previous records. With East Bengal F.C making its debut this season, Indian football’s most fierce rivalry is the highlight of the season and a much-anticipated affair.

We spoke with Sandeep Juneja, VP, sales and marketing, DHL Express on his brand’s association with ISL as an Associate Sponsor. He said, “We have experienced similar outcomes through our association with ISL - a league that endeavors to take Indian football to the global arena. With several efforts undertaken to promote football in India at the grass-root level, the sport has already witnessed a steady growth in the country. With ISL, we see greater professionalism and quality being introduced into the sport. Our partnership with ISL started in 2015 as a logistics and timing partner and over the last 4 years, we have been an associate sponsor. Our association has grown in strength and helped us reach our TG with the right messaging and experience.”

Sandeep Juneja
Sandeep Juneja

He believes that this boom in the football ecosystem has given brands a new and uncluttered turf to improve their visibility, engage their customers and build affinity. As long as brands see value in such partnerships, it builds the right model for growth for the sport, the teams, the players and the associated brands.

Over the years, ISL has not just managed to be a crowd-puller but a corporate-puller as well. Both the league and the teams have had constant support from brands like Hero MotoCorp, DHL Express, Apollo Tyres, Dream11, Bisleri, Nivia Maruti Suzuki, Puma, Kingfisher, Jockey, Paytm Insider, Policy Bazaar and many more. For these brands, the league acts as an ideal platform to reach out to the massive audience base of over 155 million followers that ISL caters to. On what is the TG that the brand is targeting, Sandeep adds, “ISL is a platform through which we engage with our existing customers, as well as reach out to potential customers such as young entrepreneurs and millennials, who are a part of ISL’s young target audience. With the phenomenal growth of ISL, we also witness significant growth in ROI each season. We receive substantial brand exposure through our TVCs, in-stadia branding, social media activations, promotions, fleet branding and much more through the season. Through this partnership, we have created visibility amongst ISL’s 200 million+ TV viewers and in-stadia audience.”

In addition to the reach and branding opportunities, brands can also leverage customised activations to reach out to their TG in innovative and creative ways. This year, brands would be willing to make the most of the digital innovations like the ‘Dugout Seat’ fan experience, virtual crowd cheer and audience presence. Also, the league is broadcasted in over 20 channels across sports, GECs and regionals (Tamil, Telugu, Bangla, Kannada and Malayalam) which give the brands an additional opportunity to reach out to their TG in metros and well as Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities across multiple geographies.

When it comes to the Indian Football landscape, ISL has made an immense contribution towards promoting football amongst Indian audiences by recognizing and showcasing talent. The visibility of the sport has increased exponentially with both celebrities and brands promoting the league and thereby taking the sport to a diverse audience. In a short run of 6 years, ISL today is the fifth biggest football league in the world in terms of audience attendance, has championed the sport, unfastened corporate interest, uplifted young talent and has recognised the sport on the global map.

The news of legendary club SC East Bengal entering ISL this season has already got the fans worked up. Social chatter around Asia’s biggest football rivalry, Kolkata Derby has already heightened and with over 1,00,000 conversations across social media around ISL in the past month, the entire football ecosystem has its eyes set on this season. With exciting developments in players, coaches and teams, this season surely promises a bang to the millions of football fans who are ready with their Jerseys, ready for the whistle to kick off the seventh season of ISL.