Desperate measures?

Patriot analyses if ISL’s new Fan Banna Padega campaign is an attempt to bring the audience watching other leagues, to watch the ISL, which is steadily falling in viewership numbers

The Indian Super League (ISL) kicked off its fifth season on September 29 with a match between ATK and Kerala Blasters. However, Kolkata boy Sayan Sarkar, who is an ardent football fan, preferred to skip his hometown team’s opening match, for the Arsenal vs Watford game in the English Premier League.

At its inception in 2014, the ISL, touted as India’s second biggest sporting extravaganza after the IPL, was the fourth most watched sports league in the world, beating a leading European football league — the Italian Serie A — in terms of viewership. However, five years down the line, the league has definitely lost its sheen, with an average attendance of just above 15,000 — much below the top football leagues of the world, and surprisingly even lower than the Bangladesh Premier League or the Japanese J-league.

Perhaps, this prompted Star India to launch a new campaign to boost the viewership and increase the dwindling number of ISL fans called “Fan Banna Padega” (You have to be a fan). In the advertisement, ISL team owners like Ranbir Kapoor, Virat Kohli, John Abraham, Abhishek Bachchan, MS Dhoni and even Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri urges all fans of the European football leagues to start watching the ISL, in order to support the growth of Indian football. “The essence of the campaign puts football fans at the heart of the experience and their role in helping Indian football grow. With the ongoing season of the Hero Indian Super League, fans have the perfect opportunity to show their love for Indian and global footballing talent on display,”says Jimit Shah, the media manager for Star India.

However, for people like Sayan, this campaign hardly makes a difference. “I have started following Arsenal since 2004, when I was a little kid, and it is from their style of play that I have developed the passion for the sport. So, I will never stop watching the Gunners in action for a team that has formed some five years ago, ever,”he says.

Ranit Das who has been a Manchester United fan for more than a decade now, had initially started watching the ISL, but has now completely stopped watching it. “I feel that the ISL promotes their league based on their star owners and club mascots, rather than focusing on the players,” he says pointing out that in the new advertisement there is only one football player – Sunil Chhetri – while the rest are all Bollywood actors and cricketers. “Unless you are able to connect the players and the fans, how do you expect your league to grow?” he adds. “The ISL is high on glitz and glamour, but low on quality,” says Das.

For another Manchester United fan Abhik Sarkar, who now lives in the USA, the ISL lacks in quality of football compared to other leagues. “Even here in the US, which is not a very strong footballing country, the Major League Soccer, the premier football league in the country, is far far ahead in terms of technique than the ISL,”says Sarkar. “In major European leagues like the English Premier League and La Liga, the action is so much more fast paced, that if you blink, you’ll miss some part of the action, and this is where the ISL lacks terribly,” he adds. “Also, the camera angles, and the way the game is broadcast is far better in other leagues than the ISL. If you watch other leagues on television, you will feel that you are a part of the action, whereas it is not so much in the ISL”, adds Sarkar.

In fact, India is the only country in the world, which has two separate domestic leagues, the ISL and the I-League, which many football experts consider as a far superior league than the ISL. “The fact that there are two separate football leagues in India creates confusion, and since there are already established fan bases of the I-League teams like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, the ISL will obviously find it hard to flourish,”says Ranajit Seal, an ardent Mohun Bagan fan, who vouches that the Mariners will be his favourite team, and no one can take its place, not even Sourav Ganguly owned ATK. In fact, while all East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan matches held in the Salt Lake Stadium always remained filled to the brim, the stadium recorded an average attendance of a meager 12,000 which is nothing in comparison to its capacity of 85,000.

For Chelsea fan Sidharth Sharma, the Fan Banna Padega campaign is a desperate measure to bring more fans and increase the revenue of the ISL. In the last season of the ISL, the total revenue was around Rs 43 crores, which is less than half of the revenue of the second division leagues of England and Spain. “It is really sad to see them adopting such measures,” says Sharma. “You cannot infuse marketing in football without realising the emotions and the feelings attached to the game. It just looks cheap and desperate,” he concludes.

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