The first edition of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) came to a close on Saturday as the team Atletico De Kolkata lifted the trophy with a 1-0 win against Kerala Blasters. The final played at D.Y. Patil stadium in Mumbai which was expected to have brought in a good number of people and overall the tournament has been said to be a success according to some media reports. We take a deeper look into the tournament and how it performed on screen as well as on field. Has India truly moved on to sports other than cricket and is football to be the next most popular sport in India? One thing is for certain there was plenty of buzz around the new football league which was deemed to take the game forward in the country.
Numbers do the talking
The Hero ISL was telecast live on eight channels across the STAR network in five different languages. According to a Star Sports statement, the efforts to engage with the masses in all corners of the country clearly paid off as 410 million viewers had tuned in to watch the league at the end of its first 9 weeks, making it the second most-watched sport in the country behind only cricket. “Moreover, the league cut across demographic boundaries and captured the imagination of a diverse fanbase. It has struck a chord with the entire family, with women and children accounting for 57 percent of the 410 million viewers who tuned in watch the Hero ISL,” the statement said.
Over 1.5 million fans turned out to watch the Hero ISL live. “While, as expected, the Hero ISL proved to be extremely popular in the football-crazy pockets of India, venues in cities like Chennai where football doesn’t traditionally have a big following have also been heaving with fans. Stadia have generally been packed close to capacity with attendance averaging 25,970 fans per match. This has made the Hero ISL the most attended league in Asia and among the top global leagues in its short history. It has surpassed Italy’s Serie A to become the fourth most-attended football league in the world, in terms of average attendance, and now only trails Germany’s Bundesliga, the Barclays Premier League and the La Liga,” Star Sports said.
The Hero ISL has also set new benchmarks online. In addition to the 410 million viewers who tuned in to watch the matches on their televisions, over 32 million fans logged in to catch the action online on www.starsports.com. The website recorded a staggering 1.6 million visits on the closing night alone and in October usurped espncricinfo.com to become the number 1 sports destination on the digital platform in India with 4.424 million visits. The popularity of the Hero ISL has also been evident across social media platforms. The Hero ISL has dominated trends online with fans extremely vocal in their enthusiasm. The Hero ISL has created 10 billion impressions on social media with over 275,000 unique authors featuring it in 1.8 million conversations.
What are the learnings from the inaugural season?
ISL has shown that India has grown beyond being a one-sport nation. There are of course a lot of learnings from the first edition for the league’s organizers, one of it being the tightly packed schedule of the league into three months which has players playing back to back games. This has been voiced out by players and coaches alike such as Luis Garcia and Zico who have been travelling and playing games continuously. This not only increase fatigue factor of players but also increases the risk of injury. From a television point of view, viewership might increase if a schedule is followed similar to that of European leagues where matches are played mostly on weekends, with the exception of the Champions League games. It could also be built up as a weekend destination for viewers.
Another point is the quality of the football in the league is also under question. This is one of the most important matters as it directly influences the viewership of the game. According to some reports the level of play is still far below that of top-tier European leagues and according to a media report, the organizers of the league have acknowledged the fact that the quality must improve for people to keep watching it.
Infrastructure needs to be upgraded in order for it to attract more top talent to the league. Many of the stadiums for ISL were cricket stadiums turned into football stadiums by covering it with artificial turf as was the case with stadiums like D.Y. Patil. There are far too less football stadiums in India that fit to the international standards. Most of the football stadiums are much smaller in comparison and not maintained well enough.
ISL definitely has a long way to go and learn from the mistakes. It will definitely take a while for TV viewership to reach to great heights as cricket, however it is a good start in its inaugural edition.