Much before business money impacted the Indian psyche and diverted public attention to cricket, football was quite popular as a street game and a competitive sport in India. Those were the days some 60 years ago, when cricket was limited to occasional test series between a few nations and was yet to acquire the kind of popularity it enjoys today. It was an expensive game too, which the population of the fifties and sixties could ill afford. In contrast, football required just one equipment and it was quite widely popular. In later years, however, vested commercial interests, media and the advent of modern broadcasting technology completely changed the scenario. The result is; Indians are totally hooked on cricket and no other sport comes even remotely close. For an average Indian the game of cricket has become synonymous with sports and no one has any interest in other competitive games. Football suffered and so did hockey and other traditional sports, where the money was trifle. The media and commercial houses continue to exploit the game that has a mass following and use the live television coverage as the platform for selling their products. Cricketers have since acquired super stardom and many of them are millionaires many times over. Against this backdrop, the advent of the Indian Super League is a heartwarming change and hopefully, the endeavor will bring back the deserved glory to football; the one sport, most widely popular in the rest of the world.
Though the Indian Super League was founded in 2013, the idea was mooted way back in late 2010. The first talks of IPL type of football were heard in October 2010, when the news of conflicts between All India Football Federation and I-League owners surfaced on lack of communication. The media reported that Reliance Industries were interested in reforming the I-League on the same lines as the already popular IPL cricket and Major League Soccer, immensely popular in USA. By that time, Reliance Industries already had a partnership with International Marketing Group of the US. In December 2010, AIFF entered into a 15-year deal with IMG-Reliance that was close to 7000 million Indian Rupees. The contract would allow IMG-Reliance to have commercial rights for sponsorship, advertising, broadcasting, video, franchising, merchandising and exclusive rights to create a new football league.
The larger aim of the ISL will be directed to making efforts in popularizing football as a top sport in India and put the country ahead in world football. Lack of encouragement has thus far held back Indian football to make its mark at international level. Unlike cricket, young people do not take football as a career option because the sport does not provide enough financial accruals. The same is the case with other sports in India because cricket has captured all opportunities.
Finally the Indian Super League is here and it has already found a new sponsor in Hero Motorcorp. The tournament begins on October 12, and it will be known officially as Hero Indian Super League. ISL will be one of the top tier football leagues in India, the other being the I-League and feature eight franchises, playing each other fom October to December every year.
The bidding for the teams was completed earlier this year and the final bidders were announced in April 2014. At Rupees 180 million, Kolkata turned out to be the most expensive city under the ownership of a group, which had former cricketer Sourav Ganguly, businessmen Harshavardhan Neotia, Sanjiv Goenka and Utsav Parekh. The group also included the La Liga side Atletico Madrid from Spain. Another celebrated cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar won the bid for the Kochi team along with PVP ventures. Three Bollywood stars showed keen interests in the ownership of other teams. John Abraham won Guwahati in partnership with Shillong Lajong; Ranbir Kapoor won Mumbai with Bimal Parekh and Salman Khan emerged as the top bidder for Pune with Wadhawan Group. Delhi was taken by DEN Networks and the Goa Team by a 3-way partnership between Salgaocar, Dempo and Videocon. It is now known that cricketer Virat Kohli is also linked to the Goa franchise. Bangalore, which was won by the Sun Group was disbanded and it was replaced by Chennai.
The franchise owners began launching their teams officially in early July. The Kolkata franchise was christened as Atletico de Kolkata, who also announced Antonio Lopez Habas as their head coach and Luis Garcia as the Marquee Player. Subsequently, all franchises are announced and their logos have been patented. Apart from Atletico de Kolkata, who will have their home at the 120,000 capacity Salt-Lake Stadium at Kolkata, the other ISL franchises and their homes will be; Chennaiyin (Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai), Delhi Dynamos (Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Delhi), Kerala Blasters (Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi), Mumbai City (DY Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai), Northeast United (India Gandhi Athletic Stadium, Guwahati) and Pune City (Shri Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex, Pune)
The competition will be a double-round-robin with each team will play the other teams twice with one game at home and one away. The top four will qualify for the semifinals, to be played on a double-leg basis and the winners will take a single final.
The entire ISL will be covered in India by Star Sports, who will use their extensive network to take the game to homes of millions of Indians. This will be an apt beginning to make the people start loving the wonderful game of football once again. The coverage is aimed at reaching close to 85% people in India alone. The first match of ISL is scheduled on October 12, 2014, when Atletico de Kolkata take on Mumbai City FC and the ISL 2014 will conclude with the final on December 20 at a venue to be announced later.