Will ISL pass the reality test?

Indian Super (soccer) League is seeking to expand. Notice for invitation to bid for an ISL team is out. Franchisee interests are sought for nine cities. The aim is to add one to three teams to the existing eight. With 50 per cent rise in the franchisee’s fee value. That amounts to base price of an approximately Rs 18 crore franchisee fee as against Rs 12 crore. The existing franchisees have been paying up to 15 crores for their rights to own an ISL team.
The league owners Football Sports Development Limited, a joint venture of IMG Reliance Limited and STAR India Private Limited, are ambitious. Aiming high. Really high. Prospective franchisee rights for the Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Cuttack, Durgapur, Hyderabad, Jamshedpur, Kolkata, Ranchi, Siliguri and Thiruvananthapuram cities are up for grab.

How close is this ambition to realism? That is tough question for FSDL to answer! Internally, the league has many challenges. On the competition front, ISL and soccer in the country are being relegated to the third spot by fast-rising Kabaddi, Pro Kabaddi League.

PKL, which started in 2014 the same year when ISL was launched, is beating the soccer league hands down on all fronts. Popularity, commercial values, franchisee fee and spectator interests, TV ratings and off course title sponsorship values – Rs 60 crore per annum for kabaddi to ISL’s Rs 18 crore.

Challenges the soccer league faces from itself are bigger.

  • Clubs are incurring losses

The ISL clubs over the years have not been able to recover 60%p to 70% of their gross  annual expenses to maintain and runs the club

  • 50% hike on franchisee fee

Will the hike FDSL are planning on franchisee fee base price be value for money? Group M’s India Sports Sponsorship Report 2017 glaringly points out sharp decline in commercial values for ISL. In such a scenario how much business sense franchisees or potential franchisees may find in investing even more is a question that  will raise many eyebrows

  • No room for Bagan, East Bengal

There is no possibility for the traditional powerhouses of Indian soccer to get an ISL ticket. Traditional fan, the purists will be disappointed. East Bengal and Mohun Bagan had requested for a privileged consideration for their entry in the ISL. For their contribution to the sport. The request is turned down. Shelling out big fat franchisee fee is beyond their reach. In the commercial world only money matters. Similar disappoint is in store for  Aizawl FC, the club that will represent India in AFC qualifiers, and its fans.

The commercial aspect of the league is most worry some. Group M’s report India A Sporting Nation in Making has this to say.


Soccer before the start of this season has also lost the status and privilege of being the No. 2 sport in the country. The statement below derived from the Group M report will further add to ISL’s woes.

Will ISL survive the these testing times. If it fails, the struggle for survival and catch up with kabaddi will become much bigger. Indeed.