Editor’s Pick: I-League continues to remain in the shadow of ISL

The traditional football league in India faces a huge challenge to survive after the emergence of the Indian Super League.

Experts often say that the future of Indian football is the Indian Super League (ISL). ISL is the newborn baby of AIFF and Reliance led FSDL organisation back in 2013-2014. It started as a two-month tournament, which was then converted to a longer campaign in 2017/18.

The extension of ISL has been heavily criticized as it will hamper the legacy of the I-League tournament that has been carrying Indian football for more than a decade.

Well, let’s try to analyze the context of the last year’s leagues run in 2018-2019 and how popular are those when it comes to match attendances. First comes the context, and undoubtedly, the traditional I-League has faced hostility from not just the ISL but also the neutral body that is accountable for both competitions – All India Football Federation (AIFF).

At the beginning of the season, AIFF claimed that I-League is the top domestic Indian football league and promised that it would get equal television coverage in terms of marketing and promotional activities. However, AIFF couldn’t fulfill this promise.

There was a huge difference in marketing and advertisement activities done for the ISL and the I-League, with the latter taking the brunt of poor marketing. Many of the I-League matches were forcefully scheduled at 3.00 pm, whereas all ISL matches were generally slotted in peak slots to get more attention from viewers.

Moreover, there was a stark difference in the quality of coverage for both leagues. I-League had poor quality coverage. Meanwhile, ISL was covered in HD mode with a huge number of TV cameras covering different aspects of the matches. The latter stages of the I-League didn’t even get airtime.

The average attendance for an ISL game was 12768, while the I-League recorded an average attendance of 10059. If we analyze the top 3 clubs from both the tournaments, the average attendances for I-League clubs were far more than the ISL ones. (Stats courtesy: Transfermarkt ISL / Transfermarkt I-League)

  1. East Bengal (I-League): 25004
  2. Jamshedpur FC (ISL): 20016
  3. Neroca FC (I-League): 19137
  4. ATK (ISL): 18307
  5. Mohun Bagan (I-League): 17646
  6. FC Goa (ISL): 16219

At a world stage, the average attendance of leading European leagues is way more than ISL and I-League, so there is a lot of work to be done on that front for both Indian Leagues.

Despite numerous hurdles, I-League did fantastically well as compared to ISL and has the potential to become the most popular league in India. Moreover, the traditional top clubs in I-League has more fan following than that of ISL clubs.

If both the tournaments are given an equal playing opportunity with equal access to marketing and all other activities, I-League has a chance to surpass ISL in terms of fan following and match attendances. AIFF needs to find a way to make both leagues co-exist to aid the development of football in India.

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