The Durand Cup, founded in 1888, is actually the third oldest football competition in the world after the English and Scottish FA Cup. There have been some impressive highs for Indian football over the years - Mohun Bagan’s 1911 victory over the East Yorkshire regiment, a gold medal in the inaugural 1951 Asian Games, Mohammedan Sporting Club’s 1960 win in the Aga Khan Cup. But, even as football grew to become the most popular sport in the world, in cricket-crazy India, it was relegated to the margins. India’s century-old footballing culture teetered on the brink of extinction, its illustrious history and traditions kept alive by a small core of die-hard fans in West Bengal, Kerala and the North Eastern states.
In 2013, as part of our mission to turn India into a multi-sports nation, Star Sports set out to make Indian football great again. We partnered with IMG Reliance to launch the Hero India Super League, a professionally run, world-class footballing competition that aims to help transform India from a perennial also-ran to a rising Asian footballing power. “We at Star believe that the future is football and Hero Indian Super League is a bridge to that future,” says Sanjay Gupta, Managing Director, Star India. “I dream that in ten years, children of our country will stick posters of ISL players on their walls alongside those of international stars such as Wayne Rooney.”
From the beginning, the Hero Indian Super League has brought glamour, prestige and respect to the game in India. Over 10 stadiums across the country were refurbished to international standards, with all the amenities you could want for both players and fans. We gave the best Indian footballers the opportunity to play alongside hand-picked global footballing stars, under the watchful eyes of international coaches, raising the quality of competition and giving them a chance to learn new skills along the way. The visibility Hero ISL provided to the sport has also brought in investment by brands like Hero, DHL and Maruti Suzuki, providing much-needed money for infrastructure and grassroots development. “There’s been a 103% rise in player fees over the past four years, and elite football players in India can earn more than some VIVO IPL players now,” says Akshat Sahu, Head of Football Marketing, Star India. “We’ve also seen the number of professional footballers go from less than a 100 to over 600. So you have a better competitive scenario, you have a better career path. Today, a 15-year-old kid can look forward to having a career in football, because he knows he has a chance to join an ISL team and earn 30-40 lakh a year.”