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Indian football league gets push from Bollywood stars

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On Sunday, football in India was promised a cash injection it could only dream of. Added to it was a touch of Bollywood glamour, India’s finest opening pair of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly and, possibly, technical inputs from the Spanish league’s team of the season, Atletico Madrid, for one of the franchises.

The kind of financial commitment needed from each of the eight franchises in the first year would be around Rs. 35 crore, said an official who was involved with the process.

Given that football in India is run on an annual budget of Rs. 40 crore, that’s a lot of money. That too, for a competition, that like the Indian Premier League, would have no official international recognition.

What this also means is that IMG-Reliance, the marketing partners of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), are assured of a return on investment of the Rs. 700 crore it is committed to paying for the commercial rights. IMG-Reliance signed a 15-year deal with the AIFF in December 2010. And that would be a first.

That’s because each franchise must pay the IMG-Reliance owned Indian Super League (ISL) the winning bid amount annually for 10 years. Sources at the AIFF said the average worth of a team was around Rs. 15 crore. That means IMG Reliance would get approximately Rs. 120 crore per year till 2024. If, therefore, the ISL runs for 10 years, IMG Reliance should get Rs. 1200 crore.

Win-win situation
Even taking into account the significant amount of spend needed to get the ISL up and running, IMG Reliance should be able to comfortably recover what they are committed to paying the AIFF. How much of this would be ploughed back to boost Indian football’s existing properties isn’t known but Subrata Dutta, senior vice-president of the AIFF, said it was a win-win situation.

“ISL would benefit Indian football. It will increase the popularity of football at all levels and infrastructure because the franchises are committed to improving both. Our players and coaches would learn more by spending time on and off the pitch with quality international players and coaches. And IMG Reliance would be the loser if it doesn’t boost the image of the I-League because that is the official competition, one that runs for six months and gives Indian clubs the right to compete at the Asian level,” said Dutta.

A breakaway league with Microsoft and Coca-Cola among the sponsors protesting against corruption in the Indonesian football federation backfired forcing, among other things, Fifa to intervene. Despite the megabucks, China hasn’t been able to taken its football to a level it would like to. But there is also the example of Japan, South Korea and Australia where big money backed by a proper plan has turned around the country’s football fortunes.

What’s happening in India is different from all this and unique in the sense players would be auctioned. Ultimately, it will be about quality on show but given that football here struggles from a lack of fans and finance, the cash-rich ISL with its stated emphasis on grassroots development could be the push it needs.

“Soccer runs in the blood of every Indian and is a part of our sporting DNA... The missing piece was a strong Indian league and ecosystem of state-of-the-art grounds and academies which the youth and soccer lovers could relate to,” said Sameer Manchanda owner of the Delhi team.