Indian Super League
The Indian Super League (ISL) is a men's professional football league, which is one of two co-existing highest level leagues in Indian football system, along with the I-League. It is organised by All India Football Federation and their commercial partners Football Sports Development Limited. Due to sponsorship reason with Hero MotoCorp, it is officially called Hero Indian Super League.
|Organising bodies||AIFF and FSDL|
|Founded||21 October 2013|
|Number of teams||11|
|Level on pyramid||1|
|Domestic cup(s)||Super Cup|
|International cup(s)||AFC Champions League|
|Current champions||Mumbai City (1st title) |
|Current premiers||Mumbai City (1st title) |
|Most championships||ATK (3 titles)|
(1 title each)
|Most appearances||Mandar Rao Dessai (114)|
|Top goalscorer||Coro (48)|
|Current: 2021–22 Indian Super League season|
The league currently comprises 11 clubs. Each season of the tournament generally runs from November to March. During the league stage of the competition, each club plays against all the other clubs in a round-robin style. At the end of the league stage, the team with the most points gets declared the Premiers and presented with a trophy named League Winners Shield, and the top four clubs qualify for the play-offs. The season then culminates with the ISL Final to determine the Champions who are presented with the ISL Trophy.
The competition was founded on 21 October 2013 with the goal of growing the sport of football in India and increasing its exposure in the country. The league began in October 2014 with eight teams. During its first three seasons, the competition operated without official recognition from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the governing body for the sport in Asia. The competition was also structured along the same lines as the Indian Premier League, the country's premier Twenty20 franchise-based cricket competition. Each season lasted just 3 months, from October to December, and matches were held daily. However, before the 2017–18 season, the league expanded to ten teams, expanded its schedule to six months, and earned recognition from the AFC.
Since the league's inaugural season, a total of four clubs have been crowned as the Champions: ATK (3), Chennaiyin (2), Bengaluru (1) and Mumbai City (1). Since it's introduction in 2019–20 season, both Goa and Mumbai City won the League Winners Shield once.
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, beginning 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. Before the creation of the National Football League, most clubs played in state leagues or select nationwide tournaments.
In 2006, the All India Football Federation, the governing body for the sport in India, reformatted the league as the I-League in an effort to professionalise the game. However, during the following seasons, the league suffered from a lack of popularity due to poor marketing.
In September 2006, 22 December, the AIFF signed a 10-year television and media contract with Zee Sports. The deal would see Zee broadcast the National Football League, the I-League, and other tournaments organised by the AIFF and select India international matches. However, in October 2010, the deal between the AIFF and Zee Sports was terminated 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, but was postponed shortly thereafter 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 consortium. 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, FC 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 expansionEdit
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 recognised 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. 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.
A month before, on 11 May 2017, the ISL organisers 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 Thiruvananthapuram. 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, before the 2018–19 season, it was reported that Reliance Industries had bought out IMG's shares in the Football Sports Development. IMG realising that the robust business model will soon be exposed, pulled out, thus giving Reliance Industries 65% ownership while Star Sports retains 35%.
The Indian Super League season runs from October to March (since the 2017–18 season). The season consists of both the league stage, which lasts until late February or early March, and the finals, which take place in March. The league stage follows a double round-robin format, with each club playing the others twice, once at their home stadium and once at their opponents' stadium, for a total of 20 matches each. Teams receive three points for a win, one point for a draw, and no points for a loss. Teams are ranked by total points, with the highest-ranked club at the end of the league stage being awarded the ISL League Winners Shield (introduced during 2019–20 season) and the top four ranked teams progressing to the finals.
The Indian Super League finals have remained unchanged since the league's inaugural season. They consist of just two rounds, starting with the semi-finals before concluding with the ISL Final. The semi-finals are played in a two-legged format, with both sides playing the other in their home venues. At the conclusion of both matches, the team leading on aggregate moves on to the final. If the scores are tied on aggregate, then the away goal rule would apply (introduced during the 2017–18 season except for 2020–21 season as the whole season was held in Goa). The final is a one-off match that is held at a neutral ground, with the winner being crowned champions.
The Indian Super League has approved the 3+1 rule to help local players actively participate in the league. The rule will be a part of the ISL guidelines from the eighth edition 2021–22. The new rule will allow 7 Indian players to be a part of the starting XI.
Indian Super League teams can qualify for the top Asian club competitions – the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup – through their performance in the league. Before the 2017–18 season, the league was not recognised officially by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the governing body for football in Asia, so for the first three seasons no ISL team was eligible to participate in Asian competition. However, in June 2017, it was announced that the AFC, along with FIFA, would recognise the Indian Super League and allow clubs to participate in the AFC Cup starting in 2019.
Bengaluru became the first Indian Super League club to play in Asian competition when they participated in the 2018 AFC Cup. The club qualified while still an I-League club and through winning the Federation Cup in 2017 but participated in the tournament as an ISL team after entering the league before the 2017–18 season. In March 2018, Chennaiyin became the first ISL side to qualify for the AFC Cup directly through the league. They qualified for the 2019 edition after winning the 2018 ISL final.
In October 2019, it was announced that the AFC had approved the proposed roadmap from the All India Football Federation, which includes allowing the Indian Super League champion to qualify for the AFC Champions League qualifiers. A couple months later, in December 2019, it was officially announced by the AFC that they would be expanding the Champions League group stage from 32 teams to 40 and that the Indian Super League league stage winners shall qualify directly for the group stage from the 2021 edition onwards. The winner of the Indian Super League Final will continue to qualify for the AFC Cup qualifiers. In February 2020, Goa became the first ISL club to qualify for the Champions League after they won the League Winners Shield as the top ranked side after the league stage.
In February 2018 it was announced by the All India Football Federation that the Super Cup would be replacing the Federation Cup as Indian football's annual knockout football competition. Before the Super Cup, Indian Super League clubs did not play official matches outside of ISL (exception being Bengaluru in the 2018 AFC Cup) so the Super Cup was the first time clubs in the league played in an official cup tournament. The Super Cup is contested by all ten sides in the ISL and the top 10 sides from the I-League, the other top flight league in India. The top six teams from both leagues qualify automatically for the tournament proper while the bottom four participate in qualifiers.
The Indian Super League will be contested by eleven clubs for the 2021–22 season. A total of 13 clubs have participated in the Indian Super League since its inception in 2014, with six clubs competing since the league's inaugural season.
Three Indian Super League clubs were founded before the league's establishment in 2014 – Mohun Bagan (1889) Bengaluru (2013) and East Bengal (1920). Additionally, only two clubs have folded in the league's history – ATK and Pune City. ATK were disbanded following the 2019–20 season when the club's ownership group merged with footballing department at Mohun Bagan to form ATK Mohun Bagan. Pune City were disbanded in 2019. The club's franchise rights were then transferred to an ownership group which founded Hyderabad FC for the 2019–20 season. Also before the 2019–20 season, Odisha FC became the first club to relocate when it moved from Delhi to Bhubaneswar, rebranding from Delhi Dynamos.
|ATK||Kolkata, West Bengal||Salt Lake Stadium||65,000||2014||2014||2020||Merged with Mohun Bagan to form ATK Mohun Bagan|
|Pune City||Pune, Maharashtra||Balewadi Stadium||9,100||2014||2014||2019||Defunct|
|Delhi Dynamos||New Delhi, Delhi||Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Delhi)||60,000||2014||2014||2019||Rebranded as Odisha FC|
Present clubs Former clubs Future member Other leagues
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". 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 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.
For the 2020–21 season, All the teams had their match in Goa due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Sponsorship and revenuesEdit
In 2014, Hero MotoCorp became the first title sponsor of the Indian Super League in a deal that would last through 2016. On 30 September 2014, a week before the first season, it was announced that Puma SE would be the official ball supplier of the Indian Super League. Nivia became 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 per cent of the money gained in the central sponsorship pool goes towards organising the competition while the rest is divided among the teams. 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 colors 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.
Television ratings and impressions in initial seasonsEdit
Star Sports, one of the organisers of the Indian Super League, also serves as the official broadcasters of the league in India. 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 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 Bangla, Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil and other languages through various channels. The league was also streamed online via Hotstar, Star Sports' online streaming service.
Current broadcasters and streaming partnersEdit
As of the end of the 2020–21 season, 13 different clubs have competed in the league, with four becoming champions and two earning the League Winners Shield. Mumbai City are the only club to have won the double, becoming the champions and earning the League Winners Shield during the 2020–21 season.
(number of titles)
|Score||Runners–up||League Winners' Shield
(number of titles)
|2014||Atlético de Kolkata||1–0||Kerala Blasters||Did not exist||Elano (Chennaiyin)||8|
|2015||Chennaiyin||3–2||FC Goa||Stiven Mendoza (Chennaiyin)||13|
|2016||Atlético de Kolkata (2)||1–1 (4–3)||Kerala Blasters||Marcelinho (Delhi Dynamos)||10|
|2017–18||Chennaiyin (2)||3–2||Bengaluru||Coro (FC Goa)||18|
|2018–19||Bengaluru||1–0||FC Goa||Coro (FC Goa)||16|
|2019–20||ATK (3)||3–1||Chennaiyin||FC Goa|| Bartholomew Ogbeche (Kerala Blasters)
Nerijus Valskis (Chennaiyin)
Roy Krishna (ATK)
|2020–21||Mumbai City||2–1||ATK Mohun Bagan||Mumbai City|| Igor Angulo (FC Goa)
Roy Krishna (ATK Mohun Bagan)
League championships by teamEdit
|Club||Champions||Year(s) won||League Winners' Shields||Year(s) won||Total combined||ISL seasons|
|ATK||3||2014, 2016, 2020||–||–||3||6|
|1||Mandar Rao Dessai||114||6||2014–|
Bold denotes players still playing in the Indian Super League.
Italics denotes players still playing professional football,
Bold denotes players still playing in the Indian Super League.
At the conclusion of each season, the league presents the following awards:
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