Ahead of the second edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) slated to begin from 3 October, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has called for an emergency meeting with the I-league club owners in a desperate attempt to diffuse the crisis surrounding India's premier football competition.
The crucial meeting to be held in Mumbai on 4 September, will be attended by Football Sports Development Ltd - the controlling body of the ISL. The AIFF president Praful Patel has also made it clear that he wants only the I-League club owners and senior decision makers of the clubs to attend the meeting.
With the I-League-ISL merger gathering steam, the meeting is aimed at discussing the road map for club football in India. The I-League, founded in 2007 as the country's primary football competition, dealt with a massive blow after the star-studded ISL was introduced in 2014.
The AIFF president had earlier suggested that India would have a single league (16-18 teams) in 2-3 years time, but the modalities of the same need to be worked upon. Following the statement, the I-League clubs had made it clear that if the two leagues merged, the interests of the former must be taken into account.
The financial instability has been one of the major reasons behind the downfall of the I-League. Since its advent in 2007, the I-league has seen four clubs disband their operations - Chirag United Kerala, JCT, Mahindra United, and Pailan Arrows. The majority of clubs in the league rely on main sponsors to fund the team through a season at least. This is mainly due to the fact that clubs in the I-League do not rely on income from merchandise sales or ticket sales and that television revenue goes directly to the AIFF instead of the clubs.
On the other hand, the notable success of ISL's first edition has only rubbed salt to the wounds of the cash-strapped I-League clubs. Despite being in existence for a much longer time, the I-League has failed to match the success of the ISL. And for a league that has been lurking in the shadows of their flashier cousin, a merger with ISL would surely be a blessing in disguise for the I-League.
Boon for Indian national team
India's national football team, currently ranked 155th in the world, has struggled to make its mark at the international stage. As cited by coach Stephen Constantine, the Indian team has paid dearly for the lack of international exposure in the recent losses. At a time when the growth of Indian players at the club level is almost non-existent, a merger between ISL and I-League to strengthen club football in the country would also help the national team.
The star-studded ISL features former football greats playing alongside Indian footballers. The exciting mix of players in each team has not only allowed the ISL to garner more spectators, but it also provides the much-needed exposure to the young players, to learn from the experiences of international football stars.
Attendance during games
In it's inaugural season, ISL recorded an average attendance of 24,357 - which is lower only than the Bundesliga, the Premier League and La Liga. It also made the ISL the fourth biggest league (in attendance) in the world. Bigger than France, Italy, Brazil, Argentina and China - countries that have an established football tradition, and the only one that has more people.
The I-League, whose average attendance is in four figures, can surely tap into the market created by the ISL. A merger between the two leagues will help the I-League to reach a much bigger audience and return back to their glory day of the National Football League (NFL).
Conflicting format and schedule
The Indian Super League season which runs from October to December has attracted a lot of criticism. Questions over whether the league would actually be able to maintain the interest of its spectators in the long run have also surfaced. On the other hand, the I-League season begins from January and goes on till May. The two leagues, currently played in succession, have so far been in conflict as far as viewership is concerned.
A merger between the two leagues will allow the viewers to focus on one tournament with more teams in participation. In July 2015, India national team head coach Stephen Constantine, had added to the disapproval of the league length and also called for just one top league for football in India.