ISL 6 raises the pitch for brands, viewers: Will it see a turnaround?

Actors Tiger Shroff and Disha Patani performed at the opening ceremony for the game in Kochi earlier this month
The sixth season of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) kicked off last week. With flashing lights on a flashy stage, a celebrity song-and-dance routine and a strong pitch by the league’s organisers at Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, one could see the strong influence of the Indian Premier League. But that is where any comparison between the leagues skids to a stop — even as the cricketing carnival has grown from strength to strength in terms of brand associations and viewership (on-the ground and on screens), football has struggled to get the league off the starting block. Can this season, backed by Football Sports Development that has Nita Ambani as its founder-chairperson, turn the story around?

The initial numbers are promising. According to Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) viewership has almost doubled across viewing platforms, the league reported. Around 34 million viewers tuned in for the opening match between Kerala Blasters FC and ATK on Star TV and Hotstar.

Nita Ambani, delivering a keynote speech at the Leaders Week 2019 in London said that ISL is the third-most-watched league in India. Viewership for 2018-19 on TV alone was 168 million, and digital viewership was over 12 million.

ISL6 has 10 teams with a combined market value estimated at Rs 400-500 crore. Two-time champions ATK is valued at Rs 57 crore, up 2.1 per cent from last year. Not all teams have benefited though, Pune FC had to change hands and names (Hyderabad FC) to get around the poor state of its finances.

According to a recent report (Sporting nation in the making) by ESP, the world’s most popular team sport has not really picked up pace in India. Brand Football dipped by Rs 30 crore in 2018, a drop of 17 per cent over the previous year. However the report recommends caution in reading the numbers; the sharp drop could be because India had hosted the Under-17 FIFA World Cup in 2017 and ground sponsorship amount was alone around Rs 40 crore.  “This gap was difficult to bridge,” it said. 

In 2019, the organisers are looking to kick the ball higher. Its campaigns have taken the emotional track, focusing on the passion for the game that has been steadily rising in the country. Several international footballers have also been roped in to promote the league. 

Focusing on football is a strategic move and the way forward for the league, believe game enthusiasts and the broadcasters. Sony Pictures Sports Network, which has the broadcasting rights for international football championships in the country says it has seen a sharp rise in viewer and brand interest in its programming, despite the late-night telecast of international matches. It has been promoting the 2019/20 season of UEFA Champions League with the tagline 'Sona Mana Hai' (Do not sleep), urging viewers to brave the red eye for the ‘beautiful game’. 

“The viewership response for FIFA World Cup and UEFA Champions League last year was more than encouraging,” said Rajesh Kaul, Chief Revenue Officer, Distribution and Head (Sports Business), Sony Pictures Networks India. For the UEFA Champions League, he expects viewership numbers to go up by 10-15 per cent. “As India moves towards becoming a multi-sport viewing nation, their appetite from premier international properties, specifically in football, has been increasing,” added Kaul. 


Actors, cricketers, and industrialists own many of the teams in the league 

Sourav Ganguly: ATK (previously known as Atlético de Kolkata)
Abhishek Bachchan: Chennaiyin FC
Rana Daggubatti: Hyderabad FC
Virat Kohli: Goa FC
John Abraham: North-East United FC (NEUFC) 


lHero (Title sponsor)
lMaruti Suzuki, DHL (Associate sponsors)
lApollo, Dream 11, Bisleri, Nivia (Official partners)

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