By Santosh Rao
Football in India will never be the same again and Indian Super League (ISL) can take all plaudits for this monumental change in the country’s sporting culture.
The inaugural ISL – a tournament borrowing on cricket’s incredibly popular Indian Premier League (IPL) concept – has managed to recapture the imagination of football fans and effected a dramatic turnround in it, shattering old biases.
Football had largely become a ‘sofa sport’ in India — fans sitting at home watching and debating about European leagues rather than going out to watch Indian players.
ISL, however, managed to turn these couch potatoes into stadium goers and this was clear from the average attendance of the tournament being the fourth highest of all leagues in the world.
The average match attendance for the tournament since its commencement Oct 12 is 24,357, the highest across Asia, and according to the organisers the league trailed only Germany’s Bundesliga, the Barclays Premier League and Spain’s La Liga.
The tournament kicked off with 65,000 people attending the opening game between Atletico de Kolkata and Mumbai City FC Oct 12.
Only in its nascent stage, the football league definitely has had its fair share of issues but when a country, which is ranked 170th in the world, has a league that has an attendance more than the Italian Serie A and French Ligue 1, there is little you can fault ISL with.
The league also recorded over 16 million online video views through the course of the tournament. Additionally, the official ISL online channel registered 28.7 million visits.
On social media too, the ISL captured the minds of football fans, recording over 1.8 million conversations, 10 billion impressions and 275,000-plus unique authors.
ISL’s football semi-final clash between Chennaiyin FC and Kerala Blasters FC recorded the highest number of online video views – 1.1 million – ever witnessed in India for any single sport game.
These numbers indicate that football has managed to create a huge fan following across India and is a step closer towards its ultimate goal of placing India on the global football map.
Besides making football popular again, the most important thing ISL did was to make young footballers see the sport as a viable career and this in turn is expected to increase the pool of players and improve the quality of the national team.
One of the many attractive features of the tournament was the constant presence of Bollywood celebrities like Randhir Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan, John Abraham and criceketers like Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, backing teams and flocking to their matches.
Bollywood played a similar role in the IPL and that has attracted non-football and sports fans to the stadia.
Also, the presence of high-profile names like Robert Pires, Freddie Ljunberg, Nicolas Anelka, Elano, David James, Luis Garcia and Alessandro Del Piero, among others, whetted the appetite of football fans around the country and also the world.
Suddenly sports media around the globe started noticing and taking interest in the football happenings in the country.
The ISL has kicked the Indian football into the global limelight and given it the new goal: To become the top sport in the country.