Indian Super League
The Indian Super League is a football league in India. It is one among the two co-existing premier football leagues in India along with I-League. For sponsorship reasons, the competition is officially known as the Hero Indian Super League. The competition is contested by ten teams and is played in a span of six months from October to March. It is organized by the Football Sports Development (FSDL) and governed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
|Founded||October 21, 2013|
|Number of teams||10|
|Level on pyramid||1|
|Domestic cup(s)||Super Cup|
|International cup(s)||AFC Champions League|
|Current champions||Bengaluru FC (1st title) |
(2 titles each)
|Most appearances||Sandesh Jhingan|
|Top goalscorer||Coro (34 goals)|
|TV partners||Star Sports (live matches)|
Hotstar & Jio TV (streaming only)
Founded on 21 October 2013 in partnership with IMG, Reliance Industries, and Star Sports, the Indian Super League was launched with the goal of growing the sport of football in India and increase its exposure in the country. The competition's first season took place in 2014 with eight teams. During the first three seasons of the Indian Super League, the competition operated without official recognition from the Asian Football Confederation, the governing body for the sport in Asia. The competition also operated along the same lines of the Indian Premier League, the country's premier Twenty20 cricket competition, with the league campaign lasting for 2–3 months and matches held daily. However, before the 2017–18 season, the competition earned recognition from the AFC, expanded to ten teams, and extended its schedule to five months.
Unlike most football leagues around the world, the Indian Super League does not use promotion and relegation, instead choosing to grow the league through expansion, similar to Major League Soccer in United States. However, a formal structure for promotion and relegation will be introduced by 2023–24. During the league's first five seasons, three teams were crowned champions: ATK in 2014 and 2016, Chennaiyin in 2015 and 2017–2018 and Bengaluru FC in 2018–2019.
Football in India has existed in many forms since the game first arrived in the country during the 19th century with the first nationwide club competition, the Durand Cup, being founded in 1888. Despite India's early history in the game, the country's first nationwide football league did not begin until the semi-professional National Football League commenced in 1996. Prior to the creation of the National Football League, most clubs played in state leagues or select nationwide tournaments.
Ten years after the formation of the National Football League, the All India Football Federation, the governing body for the sport in India, decided to reformat the league as the I-League in an effort to professionalise the game. However, during the following seasons, the league would suffer from a lack of popularity due to poor marketing.
In September 2005, the AIFF signed a 10-year television and media contract with Zee Sports. The deal would see Zee broadcast the National Football League and I-League, as well as other tournaments organized by the AIFF and select India international matches. However, in October 2010, the deal between the AIFF and Zee Sports was terminated five years early after differences between both parties related to payment and how to grow the game in India.
The Indian Super League was officially launched on 21 October 2013 by IMG–Reliance, Star Sports, and the All India Football Federation. The competition was announced to take place from January 2014 to March 2014. A few days later however, on 29 October 2013, it was announced that the ISL would be postponed to September 2014.
At first, it was announced that bidding for the eight Indian Super League teams would be complete before the end of 2013 and that there was already high interest from big corporations, Indian Premier League teams, Bollywood stars, and other consortiums. However, due to the rescheduling of the league, the bidding was moved to 3 March 2014. It was also revealed around this time that not only would bidders need to comply with a financial requirement but they would also need to promote 'grassroots' development plans for football within their area. Finally, in early April 2014, the winning bidders were announced. The selected cities/state were Bangalore, Delhi, Goa, Guwahati, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Pune. Former India cricket player Sachin Tendulkar, along with PVP Ventures, won the bidding for the Kochi franchise. Another former Indian cricket player, Sourav Ganguly, along with a group of Indian businessmen and La Liga side Atlético Madrid, won the bid for the Kolkata franchise. Meanwhile, Bollywood stars John Abraham, Ranbir Kapoor, and Salman Khan won the bid for the Guwahati, Mumbai, and Pune franchises respectively. Bangalore and Delhi were won by companies while Goa was won by a partnership between Videocon, Dattaraj Salgaocar, and I-League side, Dempo.
The first team to be launched officially was the Kolkata franchise as Atlético de Kolkata on 7 May 2014. On 7 July 2014, the team announced the first head coach in league history, Antonio López Habas. The next day, Kolkata also announced the first official marquee signing in the Indian Super League, UEFA Champions League winner Luis García.
Eventually, all eight teams were revealed as Atlético de Kolkata, Bangalore Titans, Delhi Dynamos, Goa, Kerala Blasters, Mumbai City, NorthEast United and Pune City. However, on 21 August 2014, it was announced that due to Bangalore's owners dropping out, Chennai would be given a franchise instead. The team was eventually named Chennaiyin FC. At the same time, the original marquee players were Luis García, Elano, Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires, David James, Freddie Ljungberg, Joan Capdevila, and David Trezeguet.
The inaugural season began on 12 October 2014 at the Salt Lake Stadium when Atlético de Kolkata defeated Mumbai City, 3–0. The first goal was scored by Fikru Teferra. The first Indian to score in the league was Balwant Singh for Chennaiyin FC. The inaugural final was held on 20 December 2014 with Atlético de Kolkata becoming champions after defeating Kerala Blasters 1–0 at the DY Patil Stadium.
Recognition and expansion
For the first three seasons of the Indian Super League, the competition operated without official recognition from the governing body for football in Asia, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and FIFA, the world governing body. In October 2014, then FIFA General Secretary Jérôme Valcke stated that the world governing body only recognized the ISL as a tournament, not a league. The official league for football in India remained the I-League. With no recognition from the AFC, the competition also couldn't participate in Asian club competitions, the AFC Champions League or AFC Cup.
During the first three seasons of the Indian Super League, attendances across the competition had exceeded the expectations of pundits and of the domestic I-League mainly due to the timings at which the matches took place especially on working days and needs no mention sheer promotion. Television ratings were also strong for the competition, which is expected after better commentary, better telecasting, pre-match and post-match shows, as well as hourly reminders in various channels and social media interaction. However, despite the general success off the pitch, the competition drew criticism in other areas. Due to the need to accommodate the ISL into the Indian football calendar, the I-League season was shortened and went from having an October to May schedule to January to May schedule. Indian players would play for both an ISL team and an I-League club while the I-League continued to suffer from lack of visibility compared to the ISL. India head coach Stephen Constantine had called for both the ISL and I-League to either run together at the same time or merge.
On 18 May 2016, IMG–Reliance, along with the AIFF and I-League representatives met during a meeting in Mumbai. During the meeting it was proposed that, starting from the 2017–18 season, the Indian Super League become the top tier football league in India while the I-League be reformed as League One and be relegated to the second division without any reason, further confirming the oppression of the business powerhouses in the country. The competition would also expand by two teams and continue to operate without promotion and relegation, as stated earlier due to the 15 crore attraction of the FSDL each year, but run for 5–7 months instead of 2–3. The idea was not entertained by the I-League representatives.
In June 2017, IMG–Reliance, the AIFF, I-League representatives, and the AFC met in Kuala Lumpur in order to find a new way forward for Indian football. The AFC were against allowing the ISL as the main league in India while I-League clubs East Bengal and Mohun Bagan wanted a complete merger of the ISL and I-League. A couple weeks later, the AIFF proposed that both the Indian Super League and I-League run simultaneously on a short–term basis with the I-League winner qualifying for the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup qualification spot going to the ISL champion. The proposal from the AIFF was officially approved by the AFC on 25 July 2017, with the ISL replacing the domestic cup competition, the Federation Cup which was a true knockout cup competition It was also stated that the competition would now run for five months starting with the 2017–18 season and the competition would expand to 10 teams as more teams means more money, glamour and promotion.
A month before, on 11 May 2017, the ISL organizers started to accept bids for 2–3 new franchises for the 2017–18 season. The bids would be for ten cities, namely Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Cuttack, Durgapur, Hyderabad, Jamshedpur, Kolkata, Ranchi, Siliguri and Thiruvanathapuram. It was also clarified that if Kolkata were to win at least one bid that the new Kolkata side would have to play away from the city for only two seasons. A month later, on 12 June, it was announced that I-League side, Bengaluru, and Tata Steel (for Jamshedpur) had won the bidding for the new teams.
On 22 September 2017, the competition announced officially that it would be expanding its season by two months, thus making the league last for five months instead of three. The competition would also go from having matches played daily to being played between Wednesday and Sunday.
The next year, prior to the 2018–19 season, it was reported that Reliance Industries had bought out IMG's shares in the league. IMG realising that the robust business model will soon be exposed, pulled out, thus giving Reliance Industries 65% ownership of the league while Star Sports retains 35%.
During the 2018–19 season, the Indian Super League will run from September to March. All ten teams play each other twice, home and away, for eighteen matches each. At the end of the season, the top four sides qualify for the playoffs. During the competition's first three seasons, the competition ran from October to December. The regular season would begin in October and end by early December while the playoffs would take place within the next two to three weeks. The regular season would be fourteen matches long. The top four sides at the end qualify for the playoffs. The first round of the playoffs sees the first placed team take on the fourth placed team while the second placed team faces the third.
During the playoffs, the first round is played in a two-legged format with both teams playing each other at their home venues. At the end of the two matches, the team which leads on aggregate would move on to the final. The final is a single-leg match which takes place in a neutral venue. If scores were tied on aggregate in the first round or in the final, 30 minutes of extra time would be used to determine the winner and finally, if still tied, penalties.
Qualification for AFC Cup
In July 2017, it was proposed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) that the Indian Super League champion be granted a spot in the AFC Cup, Asia's second-tier club competition. On 25 July 2017, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) approved the AIFF's proposal. Thus, from the 2017–18 season, the Indian Super League champions were allowed to participate in the AFC Cup from the qualification stages of the competition. Meanwhile, India's spot in the AFC Champions League, Asia's top club competition, was still kept by the I-League.
During the 2018 AFC Cup, Bengaluru became the first ISL club to participate in Asian club competition. The club qualified by virtue of being the Federation Cup champions from the previous season as a I-league team before moving to ISL. On 17 March 2018, Chennaiyin became the first club to qualify for the AFC Cup via becoming the Indian Super League champions after they defeated Bengaluru in the 2018 final.
The Indian Super League consists of ten teams from nine different states in India. Unlike other football leagues, the ISL does not use promotion and relegation but instead uses expansion like Major League Soccer in the United States and the A-League in Australia, due to various financial reasons. The competition features two main derbies which include the Southern derby between Chennaiyin and the Kerala Blasters, and the Maharashtra derby between Mumbai City and Pune City. This however is merely for drawing more attention towards those matches as the definition of Derby is 'rivalry between two teams of the same city'. In 2017, the competition added two new clubs for the first time when Bengaluru and Jamshedpur were awarded expansion teams.
For the upcoming 2018–19 season, each team can have a maximum of 25 players on their roster and a minimum of 22. The players have to be represented by FSDL agents. Of the 22–25 players on the roster, only a maximum of seven players can be foreign while at least two must be Indian developmental players. Each team is also allowed to spend a maximum of ₹17.5 crore on their squad, as that will be the salary cap for this season. Finally, each team is also allowed to sign a marquee foreign player who wouldn't count towards the salary cap but it isn't a requirement.
|ATK||Kolkata, West Bengal||Salt Lake Stadium||50,500||2014|
|Bengaluru||Bangalore, Karnataka||Sree Kanteerava Stadium||25,810||2017|
|Chennaiyin||Chennai, Tamil Nadu||Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium||20,765||2014|
|Goa||Margao, Goa||Fatorda Stadium||18,600||2014|
|Hyderabad||Hyderabad, Telangana||Hyderabad Athletic Stadium||32,000||2019|
|Jamshedpur||Jamshedpur, Jharkhand||JRD Tata Sports Complex||24,424||2017|
|Kerala Blasters||Kochi, Kerala||Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium||38,086||2014|
|Mumbai City||Mumbai, Maharashtra||Mumbai Football Arena||7,790||2014|
|NorthEast United||Guwahati, Assam||Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium||23,627||2014|
|Odisha||Bhubaneswar, Odisha||Kalinga Stadium||15,000||2014|
Just like the Indian Premier League, the Indian Super League has a similar ownership model where the teams are owned by prominent businessmen, as well as celebrity owners from bollywood and cricket. The Indian Super League owners act as the competition's "League Partners". Now however they have literally taken over AIFF. British professional services group, Ernst & Young, were hired to draw up a criterion for the team bidding process and they were required to approve the potential owners. In April 2014 the owners were announced. Bollywood stars such as Ranbir Kapoor, John Abraham, and Salman Khan were bid winners, as well as cricket stars Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. Football clubs such as Atlético Madrid and Shillong Lajong were also bid winners.
Despite careful selection, the Indian Super League has had trouble in the past with team ownership. In August 2014, two months before the inaugural season, Sun Group, the owners of the Bangalore franchise, dropped out of the competition after the competition rejected their potential tie-up with then I-League club Bengaluru FC. Later that month, it was announced that another Bollywood star, Abhishek Bachchan, would take over the last franchise spot and move the team from Bangalore to Chennai.
The competition had its first ownership switch within a team on 1 June 2016 when the Kerala Blasters announced their new ownership structure. Along with Sachin Tendulkar, the team brought in businessman Nimmagadda Prasad and film stars Allu Aravind, Chiranjeevi, and Akkineni Nagarjuna after PVP Ventures withdrew their stake in the team.
Since the competition began in 2014, there have been a variety of stadiums used to host matches. Two stadiums, the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai and the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, are mainly used as cricket stadiums. Three other stadiums are athletic stadiums which are primarily used to host football matches in the I-League: the Fatorda Stadium in Goa, the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, and the Balewadi Stadium in Pune. Three other venues were used which don't primarily host top-tier professional football: the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Assam, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai, and the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi.
For the 2016 season, two new stadiums were used in the competition, the Mumbai Football Arena in Mumbai and the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium in Kolkata. The Mumbai Football Arena replaced the DY Patil Stadium for Mumbai City. ATK moved to the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium after the Salt Lake Stadium was being renovated for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
For the 2017–18 season, ATK returned to the Salt Lake Stadium while the addition of Bengaluru and Jamshedpur added two new stadiums to the competition. Bengaluru would host matches at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium while Jamshedpur would play at the JRD Tata Sports Complex.
Sponsorship and revenues
On 18 July 2014, it was announced that Hero MotoCorp would be the first title sponsor of the Indian Super League. The deal is scheduled to last for three-years from 2014 to 2016. On 30 September 2014, a week before the first season, it was announced that German sports manufacturer, Puma SE, would be the official ball supplier of the Indian Super League. The company provides balls for matches and training sessions. Nivia has been the official match ball sponsor for the session 2018–19 and supplied FIFA pro certified Nivia Ashtang to be played through ten clubs.
The competition relies heavily on a central sponsorship pool. League stakeholders, Star Sports and IMG–Reliance, manage the central sponsorship pool and market the competition to potential investors and sponsors. Twenty percent of the money gained in the central sponsorship pool goes towards organizing the competition while the rest is divided among the teams which however is pretty fishy. Despite successfully gaining a lot of money through central sponsorship in 2014, 100% of the revenues were used by the competition to improve infrastructure and facilities, which meant that the teams lost money during the first season. The next season saw a change, however, with the central sponsorship pool doubling to around 100 crore due to new competition–wide sponsorships with corporates such as Flipkart and DHL Express. Teams were also able to increase their intake in sponsorship in 2015 with shirt sponsorship deals worth double from the previous season and around nine advertisements allowed on team kits. Teams in the league had also signed shirt manufacturing sponsorship deals with companies such as Adidas and Puma.
For the 2016 season, it was projected that the competition would gain more sponsors compared to the previous season, especially since the competition would occur during the Indian festive periods. For kit sponsorships, each team is allowed to have six sponsorships on the kit, with teams like ATK regularly filling those spots.
On 23 July 2017 it was announced that Hero MotoCorp would extend their deal as the title sponsors of the Indian Super League for another three-years. The company would spend $25 million on the competition during those three years according to Nita Ambani, the league's chairperson.
The Indian Super League trophy was unveiled on 5 October 2014, by Nita Ambani, the founder and chairperson of Football Sports Development. At the trophy unveiling occasion, Mrs. Ambani said, "It's a momentous day for all of us today as I stand along with the world's footballing legends to unveil the pride of Indian Super League. As these role models have inspired hundreds of thousands of players worldwide, I am sure the ISL trophy will also stand as a symbol of aspiration for many youngsters in an emergent India".
Designed by Frazer and Haws, the trophy stands 26 inches tall. The logo on the top band has the ISL colours assigned to it and the handles are ornately carved and embellished with 24 carats gold gilt to imbue a sense of pride, when held up.
With Star Sports being one of the organizers of the Indian Super League, they also serve as the official broadcasters of the league in India. The goal of Star Sports for the league was to "use its superior content creation, packaging and presentation expertise to attract and retain viewer interest." In September 2014 it was announced that Star Sports would broadcast the ISL through eight channels in five different languages in an attempt to reach 85% of the Indian television audience, the first of its kind in Indian sporting history.
The first match of the Indian Super League, between Atlético de Kolkata and Mumbai City on 12 October 2014, reportedly drew a television audience of 75 million people. The first week reportedly drew 170 million people in total. These numbers were 12 times more than what India drew for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and around 20–30 times more than what the I-League, India's other top-tier football league, drew on TEN Action and even the Premier League. Overall, at the end of the first season, it was reported that the ISL drew a total of 429 million viewers across India, just a bit lower than the Pro Kabaddi League, and two and a half times more than the FIFA World Cup. It was also reported that 57% of the viewers were women and children and that the Star Sports website gained 32 million visits during the tournament.
The league experienced a sharp growth in ratings after the 2016 season with over 216 million viewers on television throughout. The 2016 final between ATK and the Kerala Blasters reportedly drew 41 million viewers which was a 41% increase on the number of viewers who saw the 2015 final between Chennaiyin and Goa. Ratings in rural India meanwhile drew 101 million viewers.
For the 2017–18 season, Star Sports broadcast the league on Star Sports 2 and Star Sports 2HD in English. The broadcasters also televised the matches in Hindi and Tamil and through various regional channels in different languages. The league was also streamed online via Hotstar, Star Sports' online streaming service.
|Season||Date||Winner||Score||Runners–up||Venue||Attendance||Hero of the League||Semi-finalists|
|2014||20 December||Atlético de Kolkata||1–0||Kerala Blasters||DY Patil Stadium,
|2015||20 December||Chennaiyin||3–2||Goa||Fatorda Stadium,
|Atlético de Kolkata|
|2016||18 December||Atlético de Kolkata||1–1 (4–3 pen.)||Kerala Blasters||Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium,
|2017–18||17 March||Chennaiyin||3–2||Bengaluru||Sree Kanteerava Stadium,
|2018–19||17 March||Bengaluru||1–0 (a.e.t)||Goa||Mumbai Football Arena,
All-time participants (2014–2019)
The following is a list of clubs who have played in the Indian Super League at any time since its formation in 2013 to the current season. A total of 10 teams have played in the League.
|Bold||Teams playing in the 2018–19|
|R||Regular season champions|
All-time table (2014–2019)
The following is a list of clubs who have played in the Indian Super League at any time since its formation in 2013 to the current season. Teams playing in the 2018–19 Indian Super League season are indicated in bold. Dissolved teams are indicated in italic. The table is accurate as of the start of the 2019–20 season.
|Pos.||Team||S||P||W||D||L||F||A||D||Pts||1st||2nd||SF||1st App||Since/Last App||Highest finish|
Statistics below are for all-time leaders as of 6 November 2019.
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