Indian Super League
|Founded||21 October 2013|
|Number of teams||10|
|International cup(s)||AFC Cup|
|Current champions||Atlético de Kolkata
|Most championships||Atlético de Kolkata
|TV partners||Star Sports (India)
Hotstar (Digital content)
|2017–18 ISL season|
The Indian Super League (ISL) is a men's professional football league in India. The league is officially named the Hero Indian Super League for sponsorship reasons.At the top of the Indian football league system, it is India's primary football competition . For the first three seasons, the league ran from October to early December, with a finals series determining the champion in mid-December. From the 2017-18 season the league will run for a longer duration from November to April.
The Indian Super League was founded in 2013 in an effort to make football a top sport in India and to increase the level of Indian football worldwide. The league currently features ten teams from around India, with four of the top five cities by population represented in the league. Unlike other football leagues from around the world, the ISL is one of the few leagues to not use the promotion and relegation system but instead a franchise system along the lines of the Twenty20 cricket league, the Indian Premier League, Major League Soccer of the United States and Canada, and the A-League in Australia.
On 9 December 2010, the All India Football Federation signed a 15–year, 700–crore deal with Reliance Industries and the International Management Group of the United States (IMG-Reliance). The deal gave IMG-Reliance exclusive commercial rights to sponsorship, advertising, broadcasting, merchandising, video, franchising, and the right to create a new football league. This deal came after the AIFF ended their 10–year deal with Zee Sports five years early in October 2010.
On 25 April 2011, the first version of a franchise, Indian Premier League type football league was officially launched when the Indian Football Association of West Bengal launched the Bengal Premier League Soccer. The first season was scheduled for 2012. This league was not connected with the AIFF or IMG-Reliance. All six franchises would be based within West Bengal. The league would have featured top players such as Fabio Cannavaro, Robbie Fowler, Hernán Crespo, and Robert Pirès, however, in February 2012, it was announced that the league would be postponed to an undecided date before finally disbanding officially in 2013 due to financial reasons.
In early 2012, the first rumours of an nationwide franchise–type football league, organized by IMG-Reliance, started arising after a conflict arose between the owners of the clubs in I-League and the AIFF over lack of communication. The rumour was that IMG-Reliance had planned on reforming the I-League along the lines of the IPL and Major League Soccer of the United States and Canada. These rumours were confirmed to be true in 2013 when, despite the failure of the Bengal Premier League Soccer, the AIFF approved IMG-Reliance's proposal for another IPL-style league for 2014, including all of India.
Early hits towards the proposed league followed soon after, with owners of the I-League clubs fully going against this idea. The owners formed an organization known as the Indian Professional Football Clubs Association and stated that they would go against loaning out their players to IMG-Reliance for the league and go against signing any players already signed by IMG-Reliance. However, in August 2013, it was reported that IMG-Reliance had already signed the required amount of Indian players needed.
The Indian Super League was officially launched on 21 October 2013 by IMG–Reliance, STAR Sports, and the AIFF. The league was announced to take place from January 2014 to March 2014. A few days later however, on 29 October 2013, it was announced that the ISL would be postponed to September 2014. Also in October, it was announced that former Manchester United and France international Louis Saha had become the first marquee signing for the Indian Super League.
At first, it was announced that bidding for the eight Indian Super League teams would be complete before the end of 2013 and that there was already high interest from big corporates, Indian Premier League teams, Bollywood stars, and other consortiums. However, due to the rescheduling of the league, the bidding was moved to 3 March 2014. It was also revealed around this time that not only would bidders need to comply with a financial requirement but they would also need to promote grassroots development plans for football within their area. Finally, in early April 2014, the winning bidders were announced. The selected cities/state in April 2014 were Bangalore, Delhi, Goa, Guwahati, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Pune. Former India cricket player Sachin Tendulkar, along with PVP Ventures, won the bidding for the Kochi franchise. Another former Indian cricket player, Sourav Ganguly, along with a group of Indian businessmen and La Liga side Atlético Madrid, won the bid for the Kolkata franchise. Meanwhile, Bollywood stars John Abraham, Ranbir Kapoor, and Salman Khan won the bid for the Guwahati, Mumbai, and Pune franchises respectively. Bangalore and Delhi were won by companies while Goa was won by a partnership between Videocon, Dattaraj Salgaocar, and I-League side, Dempo.
The first team to be launched officially was the Kolkata franchise as Atlético de Kolkata on 7 May 2014. On 7 July 2014, the team announced the first head coach in league history, Antonio López Habas. The next day, Kolkata also announced the first official marquee signing in the Indian Super League, UEFA Champions League winner Luis García.
Eventually, all eight teams were revealed as Atlético de Kolkata, Bangalore Titans, Delhi Dynamos, Goa, Kerala Blasters, Mumbai City, NorthEast United and Pune City. However, on 21 August 2014, it was announced that due to Bangalore's owners dropping out, Chennai would be given a franchise instead. The team was eventually named Chennaiyin FC. At the same time, the original marquee players were Luis García, Elano, Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pirès, David James, Fredrik Ljungberg, Joan Capdevila, and David Trezeguet.
The inaugural season began on 12 October 2014 at the Salt Lake Stadium when Atlético de Kolkata defeated Mumbai City, 3–0. The first goal was scored by Fikru Teferra. The inaugural final was held on 20 December 2014 with Atlético de Kolkata becoming champions after defeating Kerala Blasters 1–0 at the DY Patil Stadium.
The Indian Super League regular season currently runs from November to March. The teams play in a single table during the regular season and each team will play each other twice, once at home and once away from home, to complete a fourteen-game season. At the end of the regular season, the top four teams in the table qualify for the semi finals. During the semi finals, the team that finished first during the regular season will take on the team that finished fourth, while the other fixture features the second and third placed teams.
During the semi finals, the first round is played in a two-legged format with both teams playing each other at their home venues. At the end of the two matches, the team which leads on aggregate moves on to the final. The final is a single-leg match which takes place in a neutral venue. If scores are tied on aggregate in the first round or in the final, 30 minutes of extra time would be used to determine the winner and finally, if still tied, penalties.
For the 2017–18 season, the Indian Super League will consist of ten teams from nine different states in India. Prior to the 2017–18 season, the league expanded for the first time with both Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC joining the league. Unlike other football leagues, the ISL does not use promotion and relegation. Currently, the league only features two main derbies which include the Southern derby between Chennaiyin and the Kerala Blasters, and the Maharashtra derby between Mumbai City and Pune City.
As of the 2016 season, each team can have a maximum of twenty-five players on their roster and a minimum of twenty-two. A maximum of eleven players can be foreign with a minimum requirement of eight per team. Each team must also sign at least one marquee player who must be league approved. The rest of the players must be domestic Indian players, two of which must be developmental under-23 players.
Just like the Indian Premier League, the Indian Super League has a similar ownership model in which the teams are owned by prominent businessmen, as well as celebrity owners from bollywood and cricket. The Indian Super League owners act as the league's "League Partners". British professional services group, Ernst & Young, were hired to draw up criteria for the team bidding process and to approve the potential owners. In April 2014 the owners were announced. Bollywood stars such as Ranbir Kapoor, John Abraham, and Salman Khan were bid winners, as well as cricket stars such as Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. Football clubs such as Atlético Madrid and Shillong Lajong were also bid winners.
Despite careful selection of their owners, the Indian Super League has had trouble in the past with team ownership. In August 2014, two months before the inaugural season, SUN Group, the owners of the Bangalore franchise, dropped out of the league after the league rejected their potential tie-up with I-League club Bengaluru FC. Later that month, it was announced that another Bollywood star, Abhishek Bachchan, would take over the last franchise spot and move the team from Bangalore to Chennai.
The league had its first ownership switch within a team on 1 June 2016 when the Kerala Blasters announced their new ownership structure. Along with Sachin Tendulkar, the team bought in businessman Nimmagadda Prasad and film stars Allu Aravind, Chiranjeevi, and Akkineni Nagarjuna after PVP Ventures withdrew their stake in the team.
During the league's inaugural season, a variety of stadiums were used. Two of the stadiums, the DY Patil Stadium in Mumbai and the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, are mainly used as cricket stadiums. Three other stadiums are athletic stadiums which are primarily used to host football matches in the I-League: the Fatorda Stadium in Goa, the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, and the Balewadi Stadium in Pune. Three other venues were used which don't primarily host top-tier professional football: the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Assam, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai, and the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi.
On 18 July 2014, it was announced that Hero MotoCorp would be the first title sponsor of the Indian Super League. The deal is scheduled to last for three-years from 2014 to 2016. Then, on 30 September 2014, a week before the first season, it was announced that German sports manufacture, Puma SE, would be the official ball supplier of the Indian Super League. The company provides balls for matches and training sessions.
The league relies heavily on a central sponsorship pool. League stakeholders, STAR Sports and IMG–Reliance, manage the central sponsorship pool and market the league to potential investors and sponsors. Twenty percent of the money gained in the central sponsorship pool goes towards organizing the league while the rest is divided among the teams. Despite successfully gaining a lot of money through central sponsorship in 2014, 100% of the revenues were used by the league to improve infrastructure and facilities, which meant that the teams gained nothing from the first season. The next season saw that change, however, with the central sponsorship pool doubling to around 100 crore due to new league–wide sponsorships with corporates such as Flipkart and DHL Express. Teams were also able to increase their intake in sponsorships in 2015 with shirt sponsorship deals worth double from the previous season and around nine advertisements allowed on team kits. Teams in the league have also signed shirt manufacturing sponsorship deals with companies such as Adidas and Puma.
The Indian Super League trophy was unveiled on 5 October 2014, by Nita Ambani, the founder and chairperson of Football Sports Development. At the trophy unveiling occasion, Mrs. Ambani said, "It's a momentous day for all of us today as I stand along with the world's footballing legends to unveil the pride of Indian Super League. As these role models have inspired hundreds of thousands of players worldwide, I am sure the ISL trophy will also stand as a symbol of aspiration for many youngsters in an emergent India".
Designed by Frazer and Haws, the trophy stands 26 inches tall. The logo on the top band has the ISL colours assigned to it and the handles are ornately carved and embellished with 24 carats gold gilt to imbue a sense of pride, when held up.
With STAR Sports being one of the organizers of the Indian Super League, they also serve as the official broadcasters of the league in India. The goal of STAR Sports for the league was to "use its superior content creation, packaging and presentation expertise to attract and retain viewer interest." In September 2014 it was announced that STAR Sports would broadcast the ISL through eight channels in five different languages in an attempt to reach 85% of the Indian television audience, the first of its kind in Indian sporting history.
The first match of the Indian Super League, between Atlético de Kolkata and Mumbai City on 12 October 2014, reportedly drew a television audience of 75 million people. The first week reportedly drew 170 million people in total. These numbers were 12 times more than what India drew for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and around 20-30 times more than what the I-League, India's other top-tier football league, drew on TEN Action and even the Premier League. Overall, at the end of the first season, it was reported that the ISL drew a total of 429 million viewers across India, just a bit lower than the Pro Kabaddi League, and two and a half times more than the FIFA World Cup. It was also reported that 57% of the viewers were women and children and that the STAR Sports website gained 32 million visits during the tournament.
|Season||Date||Winner||Score||Runners–up||Venue||Attendance||Hero of the League||Semi-finalists|
|2014||20 December||Atlético de Kolkata||1–0||Kerala Blasters||DY Patil Stadium||36,484||Iain Hume||Chennaiyin, Goa|
|2015||20 December||Chennaiyin||3–2||Goa||Fatorda Stadium||18,477||Stiven Mendoza||Atlético de Kolkata, Delhi Dynamos|
|2016||18 December||Atlético de Kolkata||1–1 (4–3 pen)||Kerala Blasters||Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium||54,146||Florent Malouda||Delhi Dynamos, Mumbai City|
Championships by team
|2||Atlético de Kolkata||2014, 2016|
Statistics below are for all-time leaders. Bold indicates active ISL players and their current clubs.
All statistics are based on the first two seasons only.
Due to the format, the league has taken plenty of criticism, especially leading into its first season. I-League club Churchill Brothers argued that the league would do more harm to football in India than good. Their main criticism was with the length of the league: "How do you even call it a league? You need at least six months to term yourself a league". Other critics have also questioned that the league might succeed in bringing spectators to the stadiums and increasing the amount of money the organizers have but will the league actually improve the quality of Indian football? Unlike football leagues around the world, the Indian Super League season lasts from October to December, which is two-to-three months. In July 2015, India national team head coach, Stephen Constantine, had added to the disapproval of the league length and also called for there to be just one top league for football as currently the ISL shares the top spot with the I-League.
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