NEW DELHI: It's not unusual to see crowds thronging football stadiums in Goa, Kolkata or Kochi. These are cradles of football in India. But crowds flocking to a stadium in Chennai? That would be quite a sight. But that is exactly what happened during the Indian Super League (ISL) football tournament this year.
ISL along with Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) and International Premier Tennis League (ITPL), which have all just concluded the second season is no mean feat because the success of the first edition of a tournament is often a product of the hype organisers create around it.
ISL's television viewership in 2015 increased 26% from a year ago. With an average attendance of 27,090, ISL is now the thirdhighest attended league in the world after the Bundesliga and English Premier League. PKL had 20% more viewers in the second season, according to data from broadcaster Star. At this year's India leg of IPTL, which has an impressive array of tennis superstars such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, around 14,000 people crammed the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Delhi.
India's obsession with cricket will not wane anytime soon, but Indians finally have other sporting events to obsess about. If the past two years were about setting the stage for bigtime sports action in India, the year 2016 will be about staging bigger sporting action.
Vinit Karnik, national director at ESP Properties, a sports and entertainment consultancy of media management giant Group M, says given the kind of close games witnessed in these leagues, both audience and advertiser interest will be very high in 2016.
From the third edition of PKL in 2016, the organisers have actually decided to hold two seasons a year — in January and July.
Sanjay Gupta, chief operating officer of Star India, says in football and kabaddi, brands have seen the power of sports play out and hence are far more open to sponsoring. "That's a big shift in India."
Sports leagues abroad provide plenty of opportunities for fans to express their affinity to a particular team, bearing the names of their city, state or region. In 2016, Indians fans are expected to evolve in a similar way thanks to ISL and PKL.
Owing to these events, we are not content watching. Thousands of grownups and children are playing football or badminton or basketball regularly. And in the new year, their craze will grow manifold.
India also finally has sports tournaments that could be described as big-time, suited to advertisers for televisual exploitation or to fans to break into a frenzy. ISL and IPTL, boasting an array of star players and star owners such as Sachin Tendulkar, John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan, fit the bill on both counts. ISL features football stars, albeit retired or past their prime, such as Roberto Carlos, Marco Materazzi, Nicolas Anelka and Elano Blumer alongside Indian players as Sunil Chhetri, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Robin Singh. IPTL had none other than Federer squaring off against Nadal this year in Delhi.
annual tournaments that have sprouted in hockey, badminton and even wrestling in India the next year, according to sports analysts.
Sanjiv Goenka, chairman of the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, who co-owns the Kolkata franchise of ISL Atletico de Kolkata, says the last league game played at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata had a record attendance of 68,000. "It took me more time to reach the stadium than ever before because of all the fans outside," he recalls.
TICKET SALE REVENUES UP
Ticket sale revenues shot up 25% for IPTL's India franchise Indian Aces.
Radha Kapoor, who owns the Dabang Delhi team in PKL, says there were nearly 2,000 people trying to enter the stadium in Delhi while some games were on.
As recently as three years ago, securing a broadcaster for a non-cricket sport in India was not easy. Not anymore. Star now broadcasts all the three leagues. The domestic football tournament — ILeague — is televised by Ten Sports.
Advertisers have not been far behind. ISL had 22 central sponsors in its second season compared with 13 in the first and its sponsorship revenues doubled to over Rs 100 crore. Key sponsors included big corporates such as Maruti Suzuki, Hero, Flipkart, Samsung and DHL.
RS Subramanian, country manager, DHL Express India, says his company intends to be with ISL for a longer term.
Goenka says Atletico de Kolkata got at least twice the amount of sponsorship in 2015 than in year one. Mumbai City FC managed to increase its sponsorship rates by 20%. Ronnie Screwvala, who owns the PKL Mumbai franchise U Mumba, says he is hoping to increase PKL's sponsorship revenues to around Rs 12 crore a season.
The interest of brands will grow further in 2016, according to Kapoor. "The numbers are in front of them to take a decision."
Indranil Das Blah, chief executive officer of Mumbai City FC which is co-owned by Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor, says that at the end of this season not only did ratings increase, other parameters like stadium attendance and quality of football have also improved.
The number of goals scored this year was 186 compared with 129 last year. Of these, 48 were scored by Indians compared with 27 in year one.
Football, or for that matter tennis, may never be India's game. But 2016 will prove beyond doubt that India is game for sports other than cricket.