Is investing in Indian Super League commercially viable for its franchises?

Indian football took another giant stride when Indian Super League Season 4 kicked off in Kochi today. Two new teams, a longer league, and the AFC Cup slot for the winners seem to be a recipe for a perfect season.

Indian Super League has come a long way in a short time span of three years. It has experienced an influx of the best of ex-footballers from Del Piero to Diego Forlan. It has seen the best of managers from Brazilian Zico to Steve Coppell of England, the league has also helped in creating a strong economic spin-off creating a new wave of football agents, sports PR agencies, digital agencies, and new-age digital publications.

The nexus between Sports and Business.

Does everything seem to be going right, then? Does everyone seem to be living their dreams?

Whilst the economic ecosystem around the league is strengthening, there are many gaps that yet need to be filled at the ground level. I am referring to things that affect the franchises directly.

It is believed that franchises cough out close to INR 20 Crores each season as operating costs but there seems to be an imbalance in the return on investment, I am aware it’s too early to speak about it but early adopters can find themselves out of the red as soon as possible, and this is every franchises agenda, it’s a battle for survival and sustenance.

So, here are three areas that I can think of, which if controlled can make a major difference to the franchises.

Central Revenue Distribution — Every major sports league in the world makes maximum revenue from broadcast deals. However, ISL has a unique association with its official broadcaster. It’s unique because Star has invested in developing the league which indicates the revenue will be distributed after Star break’s even.

Team sponsorships — Probably the second biggest revenue source for any sports teams, however, ISL teams have always been behind Cricket and Kabaddi for sponsorships. Football as a sport is watched by millions of Indians but it’s international football that gets more eyeballs than Indian football. This may or may not influence sponsorships but as the league progresses and other factors like AIFF’s developments and India teams progress could play a crucial role in securing sponsorships.

Co-owners — India seems to follow ABCD connect to reach out to fans. B- Bollywood of ABCD is route ISL teams have chosen to reach out and engage fans. This is a strange concept. It’s strange because teams tend to spend a good chunk of the cost towards payment for celebrity ownership. Ideally, it should be the other way around, but it’s not.

Having presented my opinions on three potential areas of improvement, I am sure the league will start working on each of the areas and in the next 5–6 years, the changes will start showing.

Here are some positive statistics in an infographic from this season’s ISL that prove changes are happening and the league and franchises will benefit in the near future.

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Nilesh Deshmukh
I am passionate about sports and passionate about marketing. As a sports marketer, I have built significant expertise in successfully delivering medium to long term digital marketing strategy for global sports entities and brands like Arsenal FC, Manchester United FC, Chelsea FC, Major League Baseball, Formula E, and AELTC, etc to engage with their fans in India. I am currently based in London and lead India business at Engage Digital Partners.