The Pakistan Premier League (Urdu:پاکستان پریمیئر لیگ) or PPL is a professional football league competition for clubs located at the highest level of the Pakistan football league system. It was founded originally in 1948, but the current format was adopted in 2004. Contested by 16 teams, the Pakistan Premier League is the top tier of an extensive pyramid-like structure, above the PFF League (or B Division). Since the creation of the league in 2004, six different teams have become league champions. Teams play 30 matches each with 240 matches played in total. The current Challenge Cup champions are KRL F.C., who won the title in the 2013–14 season.
Pakistan’s first semi-professional football league began on May 28, 1948 as the National Football Championship. The league was a knock-out competition, which remained as the top football league in the country until 2004 with the introduction of the Pakistan Premier League.
In August 2003, major restructuring was undertaken by the Pakistan Football Federation with support of FIFA's Goal Programme. Several new training facilities were built across the country and a new PFF Head Office was built in Lahore. Under new management, the PFF restructured the National Football Championship and in 2004 introduced the National League Division A Football League (which contained 12 clubs across Pakistan) and the National League Division B Football League (containing 5 clubs).
In 2006-07, the National League Division A Football League was renamed to the Pakistan Premier League while the National League Division B Football League was renamed to the PFF National League. In the following 2007/08 season, the league was expanded to 14 clubs. In the for the 2010/2011 season the league was expanded to 16 clubs. The two bottom teams at the end of each Pakistan Premier League season would to be relegated to the PFF League, while the top 2 teams in the PFF League would be promoted to the Pakistan Premier League.
The Pakistan Football Federation have announced they will try and professionalize the league by introducing city based teams and getting rid of "departmental" teams, which although are financially stable, do not have much of a fan following.
The Pakistan Premier League is directly under control of the Pakistan Football Federation or PFF. The PFF oversees all aspects of the league and makes unilateral decisions over any changes to the format, funding and sponsorship.
There are currently 16 clubs in the PPL, although the competition started in 2004–05 with 14 teams. The season lasts during the winter months stretching from November to February, with each club playing the others twice, once at their home stadium and once at that of their opponents for a total of 30 games for each club, with a total of 240 games in each season. Each teams receives three points for a win and one point for a draw. Teams are ranked by total points, then goal difference and then goals scored. At the end of each season, the club with the most points is crowned as PPL Champion. At the end of the season, the two worst teams are relegated directly to the PFF League, while the top two teams in the PFF League are promoted to the PPL.
The top team in the PPL automatically qualifies for the AFC President's Cup, the weakest continental club competition in Asia. Technically, the PFF can nominate any team to represent them in Asia; however, only the team that finished top of their highest league are sent.
PPL clubs have almost complete freedom to sign whatever number and category of players they wish. There is no team or individual salary cap, no squad size limit, no age restrictions other than those applied by general employment law. However teams are restricted to not more than 2 foreign players in the squad for the season. Players move on free transfers as contracts only last for a year, but some contracts can be as long as three years, and the transfer fees are small. Due to the nature of the league, players tend to work for the company they play for during the off season and top players can command respectable football salaries.
The Pakistan Football Federation has been severely criticized for its non-serious attempts to increase the quality of football in the country. The PFF cites claims of lack of funds from the government, however these claims are largely rejected by players and owners alike who all agree that the PFF is severely mismanaged and corrupt. The league has an "amateurish" setup according to critics, which they claim don't allow players to develop to the level they are capable of. Pakistani clubs are considered lightweight in comparison to other Asian clubs and defeats by the opposition in the AFC President's Cup suggest that this may have some foundation. Another main criticism leveled at the PPL is the number of games played over a short space of time. One team can be forced to play 3 games in a week due to the congested fixture list. The PFF’s attempts to cut costs have led to players becoming exhausted.
The lack of independent clubs is also a major issue many football fans in Pakistan are annoyed with. Since the PFF has not made serious attempts to lure large businesses to invest in and/or sponsor teams, the league has a dominance of departmental teams run by the sports division government agencies and private businesses. This has resulted in a serious lack of public interest since nobody is willing to pay money to see departments play. However, critics suggest that if actual city-based teams are promoted with departments acting as sponsors, a fan following may develop. This is clearly evident with Chaman F.C. which has a large fan following and can see up-to 12,000 people attending matches.