The team owners are seeing the decision to broadcast only select I-League matches as a “concerted effort to kill” the league.
It has been announced that only select 30 of the remaining I-League games for the season will be broadcast live. The All-India Football Federation, the governing body for football in India, claims to be in the dark over the decision, while the resentment among the football fraternity and fans is growing over the decision.
The stakeholders and associates are training their proverbial guns on broadcaster Star Sports. However, the accountability needs to be determined in right earnest. Star Sports is the host broadcaster for the league. The onus to produce the matches for live rests with the Football Sports Development Limited, the IMG Reliance subsidiary which owns the I-League media rights.
While Star Sports is the broadcast partner, the production rights are with the FSDL, an IMG-Reliance wing and the commercial partner of All India Football Federation (AIFF) and promoter of Indian Super League.
The bigger question here is whether the broadcaster – Star Sports – is declining to broadcast only the select matches. Or, is it the decision of the FSDL? A decision at the FSDL-level means no live feed of the games for Star Sports to broadcast. Or, is it a joint decision by the FSDL and Star Sports. The key stakeholder All India Football Federation had reportedly claimed that it were not party and the “Hero I-League, the country’s top flight football league, were recently informed that STAR SPORTS – exclusive broadcasters of the Hero I-League, would broadcast a select 30 matches including the final three last round matches LIVE & EXCLUSIVE on Star Sports 3 for the second half of the league beginning December 29”.
The AIFF, too, cannot just escape the responsibility with a simple statement about “being in the dark”. Even if it were not consulted over the decision, what the is the governing body for football and the I-League organiser doing to protect the team owners’ interests?
Irrespective of the AIFF claims, either it is a tri-partite decision or the other party or parties are the victims of the party or parties behind the decision. The other stakeholders and the league are the instant losers.
The decision to telecast only 80 of the 110 matches during the season will have a far-reaching impact on the league, which may include a breach of the franchisees’ commitments to their sponsors. The sponsorship deals for the season are based on the understanding that the matches will be broadcast live. The change is also detrimental to the interest of the I-League title sponsors Hero MotoCorp. Any game not being broadcast now will have a certain bearing on the commercial values of the league.
The host broadcaster, before the start of the season, had reportedly confirmed the live telecast of all the 110 I-League games. As the next round games start on December 29, a statement is issued that only 30 of the 61 remaining matches will be broadcast live.
Defending champions Minerva Punjab FC, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Real Kasmir FC and Chennai City FC are some of the clubs to have raised concerns over live coverage of the games. As per the list of games to be telecast live in the second half of the league, Minerva Punjab FC are the worst affected, adds PTI.
Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj was scathing in his attack on the broadcasters and FSDL. “There is a concerted effort to destroy the I-League. The time has come for all of us to protest unitedly and, if needed, approach the court,” Bajaj had told PTI.
Rohit Ramesh, owner of league leaders Chennai City FC, was also vocal while expressing his disappointment. “My point is if you want to kill the I-League, then kill it in style, instead of doing all this. See I have nothing against ISL but at least give I-League its due,” Ramesh said.
A reliable source close to the AIFF claims, “They said verbally that all the matches will be telecast live, but there was no official confirmation, though.”
People connected to the I-League say it is no secret that the ISL feel threatened by I-League’s popularity and the traction it gets. I-League debutants Real Kashmir FC, lying second in the pecking order after a fine start, hoped the issue will be sorted. “I hope that all matches will be telecast live as was decided earlier. The organisers, AIFF, have been playing a wonderful role in encouraging all teams of I-League,” Real Kashmir FC co-owner Sandeep Chattoo said.
“For us at RKFC, our fans back at home have been following the matches on television sets and Internet and I hope their enthusiasm will not be dampened by this decision.”
Even traditional heavyweights Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have come in support of these clubs, saying they should be united in this fight while urging the AIFF to do its best to protect the I-League.
Undermining the I-League is not acceptable at any cost, the two giants of Indian club football said, whose face-offs attract some of the biggest turnouts. With most of his team’s games missing out on the live telecast, Bajaj also hit out at the move in a series of tweets.
“Today I am feeling so helpless and sad that the top football league of the country has just been killed off by the rich guys. Point is, why bid if you are not going to telecast matches? This is nothing but a cheap tactic to kill I league. Why don’t all I league clubs combine and protest or boycott the league? I’m furious.
“We have more combined attendances than ISL even though we start our matches at 2 pm,” the Minerva Punjab owner has tweeted.
With most of his team’s games missing out on live telecast, Bajaj also hit out at the move in a series of tweets. “Today I am feeling so helpless and sad that the top football league of the country has just been killed off by the rich guys.
“Point is, why bid if you are not going to telecast matches? This is nothing but a cheap tactic to kill I league. Why don’t all I league clubs combine and protest or boycott the league? I’m furious.”
Gokulam Kerala will be among the most affected clubs. President VC Praveen has questioned the federation’s silence. The clubs’ commercial prospect are set to take a hit, while they remain answerable to their present sponsors.