New Delhi: Indian Super League (ISL), the men’s professional football tournament, is expected to generate Rs400 crore in advertising, sponsorships and gate receipts this year, a 25% jump over last year.

The fourth edition of the tournament gets off the ground in Kochi on Friday. The stakes are higher this year because ISL will be a five-month long season instead of three earlier with the addition of two new teams from very strong football markets—Jamshedpur and Bengaluru. That is not all. All the 95 matches have been slotted for prime time viewing on weekends this year.

“It’s one more year of taking the sport forward. With this season we are entering new geographies, we have a better player roster in place. The U-17 World Cup has been helpful. The stars seemed to be aligned for a better season," said a person close to the development on condition of anonymity.

According to Indranil Das Blah, chief executive of Mumbai City FC, all these factors add up for what should likely be an “explosive" season. “Feedback in the market has been great so far. In fact, the best ever compared to earlier seasons. We have maxed out on inventory which has happened for the first time," he added.

The club owned by actor Ranbir Kapoor has sold all eight ad slots including front and back of the jersey and is expected to make in excess of Rs12 crore this season. Real estate firm Ace Group and online marketplace OK Sir are among sponsors of the club.

All 10 teams are hoping to make advertising revenue in the range of Rs6-10 crore, according to estimates by media buyer. Teams from Kerala and Kolkata are likely to bring in higher revenues compared to Delhi, Goa and the North East due to differences in spectator interest and size of the market from an advertiser’s point of view. “The revenue from central sponsorships has grown but what franchises make may not matched up," said Harish Krishnamachar, founding partner, Sportoid Sports Solutions, which manages sponsorships, player contracts and events.

Official broadcaster Star India, which started selling ads at Rs2.5 lakh per 10 second slot, may not have found too many takers at that price. But collectively the stakeholders of ISL, including Star India, will make Rs400 crore which they will earn from league sponsors in addition to ad revenue made by the 10 franchises and gate receipts. ISL is owned by IMG, Reliance Industries Ltd and Star India.

“Three years ago, ISL was officially inaugurated as a league that an average football fan could call his own. Soon it grew into becoming the fourth most attended football league in the world and the third most watched league across all sports in India," said s spokesperson for Star India in an emailed response.

The ISL final last season garnered 15 million average impressions, according to data by television ratings agency Barc (Broadcast Audience Research Council) India. In terms of spectators at match venues, in total, 1.28 million people attended the 61 matches that made up the ISL tournament between October to December 2016.

The league’s three biggest sponsors have all renewed their deals. The country’s largest two-wheeler maker, Hero MotoCorp continues to be the title sponsor for the league since inception while both Maruti Suzuki, a leading automobile maker and DHL, an international express services provider continue to be associate sponsors for three years in a row.

The new season comes soon after the success of the Fifa Under-17 World Cup hosted by India creating a buzz around football in the country.

Advertisers are buying into the aspirational connect of the sport and looking beyond television numbers. Although the viewership numbers of Under-17 World Cup are encouraging, the total impressions for 52 matches were 33.29 million, as per Barc data. Impressions refer to the number of individuals in thousands of a target audience who viewed an event, averaged across minutes.

The deeper penetration of ISL into urban and rural India and the explosive growth of digital consumption augurs well for the future of football in India, added a Star India spokesperson.

“If something like kabaddi has seen very good viewership numbers over an extended season and if ISL can begin to mirror that then the rest of it will fall into place. The league will see stability," added Krishnamachar.

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