New Delhi/Mumbai: Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) and other backers of an Indian Premier League (IPL)-style football championship on Monday finally invited bids for teams in nine cities, a move that has been postponed twice before.
The first edition of the Indian Super League (ISL), promoted by RIL, sports agency IMG Worldwide Inc. and broadcaster Star India Pvt. Ltd, will be staged between September and November, the companies said in an advertisement in the Times of India newspaper.
“Football Sports Development Pvt. Ltd (a subsidiary of the IMG-Reliance joint venture) invites bids from interested parties for the award of teams in the Indian Super League,” the frontpage advertisement said.
Bids have been invited for teams in Kolkata, Goa, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Guwahati, Kochi and Pune. “Eight winning bidders shall each be enrolled and awarded the right to participate in the ISL,” it said.
Bidding closes on 25 March.
The Super League was postponed twice before owing to the unavailability of players as well as other modalities that needed clearance from the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
“The process had been delayed as all the stakeholders felt that they would have had to rush into it had they launched as per the previous schedule,” said Nitin Kukreja, head of the sports business at Star India. “The franchisees need time to prepare, and we hope to have all the teams in place soon, which will give them sufficient time to prepare until September.”
The market still seems unclear of the promise this sports property holds, especially given that the entry price to owning an ISL team is Rs.25 crore.
“This is higher than the amount used to run an I-League team (another Indian football tournament conducted over 9 months), which is between Rs.12-20 crore,” said Hiren Pandit, chief operating officer, TransStadia, a sports infrastructure and entertainment company.
I-League teams do not recover their costs and play for the love of sport, said Pandit. He is also not sure if I-League club owners will allow their players to participate in the ISL. “I know conversations are happening but there is conflict there,” he said.
A spokesperson for IMG-Reliance was not available for comment.
According to a Business of Sports report compiled by the lobby group Confederation of Indian Industry and consultancy firm KPMG, ticket prices for an I-League match range from Rs.30 to Rs.300, much lower than the Rs.500-20,000 for an IPL ticket. IPL cricket teams generate 10-15% of their revenue from gate receipts.
The proposed football league will roughly resemble Major League Soccer in the US, which features teams from 16 cities in the US and three in Canada. It was started as part of plans for the 1994 World Cup in the US and was meant to give soccer a boost in the country. It wasn’t very successful in the initial years, with attendances remaining thin and some teams folding up. But subsequently it has taken off with the inclusion of some star players. LA Galaxy has been the best-known of these teams ever since it bought English superstar David Beckham from Real Madrid in 2007, and more recently Robbie Keane.
India already has a well-established football clubs league that gets players from Africa and West Asia, but spectator interest has waned both on the ground and on television.
Marketers, however, believe the new Super League has generated excitement. “There is a lot of noise around this. The important thing is if they can make it large and attract quality players,”said Dhruv Jha, general manager, IPG Mediabrands, a media agency network. He said fans would be looking forward to the Football World Cup in Brazil this year besides the English Premier League matches. According to a report prepared by SportzPower, a provider of sports business news, and GroupM ESP, the sports and entertainment arm of GroupM Media, there is opportunity in under-leveraged and under-monetized games such as football and basketball in India.
The report cites FIFA president Sepp Blatter describing India as football’s “sleeping giant”, alluding to the potential for the sport’s growth in a country of 1.2 billion. It is this potential that football’s governing body was looking at when it urged India to go the extra mile in order to win the rights to host the 2017 Under-17 World Cup.
Vinit Karnik, business head at GroupM ESP, said India’s sporting culture, currently dominated by cricket, is changing fast.
“If not today, there will be a consumption change for alternative games like football, badminton and hockey in the next 12-18 months,” he said. “We are definitely a football-following country if not a football-dominated one. Decision-makers of this country resonate with cricket but the youth is far more fragmented.”
In fact, Indian brands have associations with European football clubs too—Bharti Airtel Ltd has a deal with Manchester United and Tata Tea with Arsenal and Inter Milan. Venkateshwara Hatcheries Group bought English football team Blackburn Rovers in 2010, while L.N. Mittal was earlier chairman of Queens Park Rangers, his son-in-law Amit Bhatia is the vice-chairman at the club.
Officials of Star Sports, the broadcasting partner for the new football league, said the sport has huge potential in India. “Football is big in India. It is clearly demonstrated in the following that we see for properties such as the English Premier League and FIFA World Cup, so it is certainly a sport with massive opportunity,” said Kukreja.
“Our job will be to ensure that we provide that quality international football experience by bringing in a high quality of international players into the mix, backed by aggressive marketing and high quality production,” he said.
In a Mint story published in October, Uday Shankar, chief executive at Star India, said: “Our objective is nothing short of creating a movement around football in India. We want to put India on the global map.”
Finnish phone-maker Nokia Oyj, a sponsor of the IPL franchise Kolkata Knight Riders, said it was open to sponsoring sports other than cricket.
“It’s very nascent , but there will be opportunities beyond cricket and brands should be open to it,” said Viral Oza, marketing director, Nokia India. About 10-12% of Nokia’s sponsorship budget is earmarked for sports-related properties.