For long, cricket has swamped all other sports in India but the tide maybe slowly turning for football, with the newly launched Indian Super League (ISL) totting up quite a following on social media.
Two weeks into the competition, the ISL’s verified Twitter handle, @Indsuperleague, already boasts of more than 53,000 followers. While that maybe a fraction of, say, Sachin Tendulkar’s 4.7 million followers, it is way ahead of other sports. ISL has more than a million ‘likes’ on Facebook.
In comparison, the Indian Badminton League, @IBL_Official, has fewer than 4,000 followers on Twitter, the kabaddi league some 12,000 and the hockey league just over 5,000 followers. These accounts remain unverified. Other sports are either absent on social media or their presence is negligible.
Part of the reason why ISL is making a buzz online is that most of the teams are promoted by media-savvy sports and movie celebrities who themselves have a substantial presence on social media platforms. The total number of tweets on ISL stands at over 133,000 and is steadily increasing.
Twitter is quick to recognise the potential of football in India and is lending ISL a helping hand.
“Twitter is partnering with ISL on multiple fronts and one of these includes the Twitter Mirror, a behind-the-scenes celebrity experience that enables candid, signature-enabled photo messages to be tweeted out to fans instantly,” said Aneesh Madani, Head of Sports Partnerships at Twitter India.
Many ISL players, owners and stars, including Abhishek Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor and Sania Mirza, have shared these pictures which can be seen on the timelines of @IndSuperLeague and @StarSportsIndia.
ISL has also been paying special attention to improving fans’ experiences. Innovating with Twitter, the franchise is using #ISLCal and ‘Match Day Wars’ to engage football lovers across the country.
#ISLCal is a calendar notification system using Twitter where fans send a tweet to @IndSuperLeague with #ISLCal, receive an instant reply and set mobile phone reminders for matches of their favourite ISL team.
Match Day Wars collates and visualises conversations between fans of the two teams facing each other on any given day. These wars go live at 00:00 hours on the day of the match and end 30 minutes after the final whistle of the particular match. The results of these battles are up on http://www.indiansuperleague.com/match-day-wars
All this Twitter attention seems to be paying off. Take for example Amaresh Namburi, a football enthusiast who was a tad sceptical about watching ISL. Twitter changed that.
“I started watching ISL after the first two games because I saw my other Twitter friends, who are into football, talk about ISL teams and players.”
But football in India still has a long way to go.
To put things in perspective, the English Premier League, EPL, although around for much longer than ISL, has more than six million followers on Twitter. Most of its clubs and league players have Twitter accounts. They often tweet prior to and/or after their respective matches. Barcelona tops the list of football clubs with 13 million followers.
In ISL, most followed club – Delhi Dynamos – clocks just under 25,000 followers on Twitter.
For some time now, sports tweeting has been a big business. Close to 672 million tweets were sent out about the 2014 World Cup (FIFA) while the EPL notched up about 5.5 million tweets in its very first weekend.
Twitter’s Madani, meanwhile, is a happy man and stresses on how the ISL is off to a great start.
“It's just been the first couple of weeks, and we applaud ISL for their run on goal with Twitter right from kick-off."