The Indian Super League (ISL) is the men's highest level of the Indian football league system. Administered by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and its commercial partner Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL),[1][2] the league currently comprises 13 clubs across India.

Indian Super League
Organising bodiesAIFF and FSDL
Founded21 October 2013; 10 years ago (2013-10-21)
CountryIndia
ConfederationAFC
Number of teams13
Level on pyramid1
Domestic cup(s)
International cup(s)
Current championsMohun Bagan SG (1st title)
(2023–24)
Current ISL CupMumbai City (2nd title)
(2023–24)
Most championshipsMumbai City (2 titles)
Most ISL CupsATK (3 titles)
Most appearancesPritam Kotal
Amrinder Singh
(162)
Top goalscorerBartholomew Ogbeche (63)
TV partnersList of broadcasters
Websiteindiansuperleague.com
Current: 2024–25 Indian Super League

The season runs from September to March and includes a 24-round regular season followed by playoffs involving the top six teams, culminating with the ISL Final to determine the ISL Cup winners. At the end of the regular season, the team with the most points is declared the ISL champions and presented with the League Winners' Shield. Until 2021–22 season the ISL Cup winners were designated as champions but later from 2022-23 season, the champions designation was given to table toppers instead of playoff champions.[3]

Currently, the league only follows promotion in the promotion and relegation processes. ISL clubs qualify for the Asian continental club competitions; League Shield winners qualify directly for the subsequent season's AFC Champions League Two group stage.

The competition was founded on 21 October 2013 to grow the sport of football in India and increase its exposure in the country. Play 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. It was structured along the same lines as the Indian Premier League, the country's premier Twenty20 franchise-based cricket competition. Each season lasted just three 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. Two of India's most historic clubs - Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, also joined the ISL. With ATK disbanding, the 2020-21 season had 11 clubs competing.

The ISL attained the sole top-tier league status from the 2022–23 season with the I-League demoted to the second tier. The 2023–24 season saw a promoted team from the I-League participating in the ISL for the first time ever. Punjab FC, as the 2022-23 I-League champions, became the 12th team in the league. The following year, Mohammedan SC joined the league as the 13th club as champions of the I-League.

Since the league's inaugural season, six clubs have won the ISL Cup title: ATK (3), Chennaiyin (2), Mumbai City (2), Bengaluru (1), Hyderabad (1) and Mohun Bagan (1).

Since the introduction of the League Winners' Shield in the 2019–20 season, Mumbai City has won it twice, while Mohun Bagan, Jamshedpur and Goa have won once each. Mumbai City is the only team to have won the ISL Final and the League Winners' Shield in the same season, which they achieved in the 2020–21 season.

History

Season Championship
(Cup Winners)
2014 Atlético de Kolkata
2015 Chennaiyin
2016 Atlético de Kolkata (2)
2017–18 Chennaiyin (2)
2018–19 Bengaluru
Season Championship
(Cup Winners)
Premiership

(League Winners)

2019–20 ATK (3) Goa
2020–21 Mumbai City Mumbai City
2021–22 Hyderabad Jamshedpur
Season Championship
(League Winners)
Cup Winners
2022–23 Mumbai City (2) ATK Mohun Bagan
2023–24 Mohun Bagan SG Mumbai City (2)

Origins

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.[4][5] Despite the long history of the game in India, the country's first nationwide football league did not begin until the semi-professional National Football League commenced in 1996.[6] Before the creation of the National Football League, most clubs played in state leagues or select nationwide tournaments.[6]

In 2006, the AIFF, the governing body for the sport in India, reformatted the league as the I-League to professionalize the game.[7] However, during the following seasons, the league suffered from a lack of popularity due to poor marketing.[8]

In September 2006, the AIFF signed a 10-year television and media contract with Zee Sports. Zee would broadcast the National Football League, later the I-League, and other tournaments organized by the AIFF and selected India's international matches.[9] However, in October 2010, the deal between the AIFF and Zee Sports was terminated over payment and marketing disagreements.[10]

On 9 December 2010, it was announced that the AIFF had signed a new 15-year, ₹700 crore deal with Reliance Industries and the International Management Group.[11]

Foundation

The Indian Super League was officially launched on 21 October 2013 by IMG–Reliance, Star Sports, and the All India Football Federation.[12] The competition was announced to take place from January 2014 to March 2014, but was postponed shortly thereafter to September 2014.[13]

At first, it was announced that bidding for the eight Indian Super League teams would be completed before the end of 2013 and there was already high interest from major corporations, Indian Premier League teams, Bollywood stars, and other consortia.[14] However, due to the rescheduling of the league, bidding was delayed to 3 March 2014.[15] It was also revealed around this time that bidders would need to comply with financial requirements as well as promote football development within their area.[16] Finally, in early April 2014, the winning bidders were announced.[17] The selected cities/states were Bangalore, Delhi, Goa, Guwahati, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Pune.[17] 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.[17] 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.[17]

The first team to be launched officially was the Kolkata franchise as Atlético de Kolkata on 7 May 2014.[18] On 7 July 2014, the team announced the first head coach in league history, Antonio López Habas.[19] The next day, Kolkata also announced the first official marquee signing in the Indian Super League, UEFA Champions League winner Luis García.[20]

Eventually, all eight teams were revealed as Atlético de Kolkata, Bangalore Titans, Delhi Dynamos, Goa, Kerala Blasters, Mumbai City, NorthEast United and Pune City.[21][22] However, on 21 August 2014, it was announced that due to Bangalore's owners dropping out, Chennai would be given a franchise instead.[23] The team was eventually named Chennaiyin FC.[24] 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.[21]

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.[25] The first Indian to score in the league was Balwant Singh for Chennaiyin FC.

Recognition and expansion (2014–2021)

 
The first-ever ISL match being played at Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan.

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 the world football governing body FIFA.[26] In October 2014, then FIFA Secretary General 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.[27] With no recognition from the AFC, the teams also couldn't participate in Asian club competitions, the AFC Champions League or the AFC Cup.[27]

During the first three seasons of the Indian Super League, attendance across the competition exceeded the expectations of pundits and the domestic I-League mainly due to the timing of the matches, mostly on working days, and extensive promotion.[28] Television ratings were also strong for the competition, due to better commentary and telecasting, pre-match and post-match shows, as well as hourly reminders in various channels and social media interaction.[28] 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 a January to May schedule.[29] Indian players would play for both an ISL team and an I-League club while the I-League continued to suffer from a lack of visibility compared to the ISL.[30] India's then head coach Stephen Constantine had called for both the ISL and I-League to either run together at the same time or merge.[31]

 
2016 ISL Final at Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium, Kochi

For the first three seasons Atlético de Kolkata emerged as the dominant team by finishing in the top four every year, and winning the Final twice (2014 and 2016) by defeating Kerala Blasters both times.[32][33][34][35]

On 18 May 2016, IMG–Reliance, along with the AIFF and I-League representatives met at 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 restructured as 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.[36] The idea was not entertained by the I-League representatives.[36]

In June 2017, IMG–Reliance, the AIFF and the I-League representatives met with the AFC in Kuala Lumpur in order to find a new way forward for Indian football.[37] 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.[37] A couple weeks later, the AIFF proposed that both Indian Super League and I-League run simultaneously on a short–term basis with the I-League champion retaining the AFC Champions League qualifying stage spot and the AFC Cup qualifying stage spot going to the ISL champion.[38] 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, a true knockout cup competition.[39] It was also stated that the competition would now run for five months, starting with the 2017–18 season, expand to 10 teams.[38]

A month before, on 11 May 2017, the ISL organizers started to accept bids for 2–3 new franchises for the 2017–18 season.[40] The bids would be for ten cities, namely Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Cuttack, Durgapur, Hyderabad, Jamshedpur, Kolkata, Ranchi, Siliguri and Thiruvananthapuram.[40] 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.[40] 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.[41]

On 22 September 2017, the competition announced officially that it would be extending 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.[42]

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%.[43] In this season, Bengaluru had achieved the feat of being the first club to win the final after topping the league standings. Following the 2018–19 season, Pune City was disbanded in 2019. The club's franchise rights were then transferred to an ownership group which founded Hyderabad FC.[44] In August 2019, Delhi Dynamos became the first ISL club to relocate when it moved from Delhi to Bhubaneswar and rebranded as Odisha FC.[45]

On 14 October 2019, the AFC held a summit in Kuala Lumpur, chaired by the AFC Secretary General Windsor John, which involved key stakeholders from the AIFF, the FSDL, the ISL, and the I-League clubs, and other major stakeholders to propose a new roadmap to facilitate the football league system in India.[46] Based on the roadmap, that was prepared by the AFC and the AIFF at the summit and approved by the AFC Executive Committee on 26 October in Da Nang, in 2019–20 season the Indian Super League will attain the country's top-tier league status and run parallelly with I-League, allowing the Indian Super League premiers to play in AFC Champions League and the I-League champions to play in AFC Cup.[47] In addition, starting from the 2022–23 season the I—League lost top-tier status and the Indian Super League became the country's sole top-tier league. The champion of the I-League will stand a chance to be promoted to the Indian Super League with no participation fee, a basis fulfilling sporting merit and the national club licensing criteria to be set out by the AIFF, but there will not be relegation from Indian Super League up to the 2023—24 season. In its recommendation for 2024–25, it was agreed to fully implement promotion and relegation in between the two leagues, and abolition of the system of two parallel leagues.[48] The club finishing at the top of the Indian Super League table was crowned the season's premiere, and Goa became the first to achieve the title in 2019–20 season.[49]

Another key recommendation by the AFC in the roadmap was to open a pathway for two I-League clubs’ entry into the Indian Super League by the end of the 2020-21 season, subject to the criteria being fulfilled.[46] Therefore, efforts were taken early on by the organizers to include two historic clubs– Mohun Bagan and East Bengal into the league, which succeeded in the following season. Before the start of the 2020–21 season, the owners of ATK merged its brand with the football section of Mohun Bagan to become ATK Mohun Bagan on 1 June 2020 and entered the league. On 27 September 2020, after securing investment from Shree Cement, East Bengal joined the league as an expansion team, thus becoming the 11th team in the league.[50]

Sole top-tier league status (2022–present)

Following the Indian football roadmap, the Indian Super League became the sole top-tier league in the country from the 2022–23 season.[47] Before the 2023-24 season, Punjab FC became the first club to be promoted to the league from the I-League. Similarly, Mohammedan won the next I-League and was promoted for 2024-25 ISL season.[51]

The Indian football roadmap also recommended relegation to be adopted by the 2024-25 season. However, no official confirmation of its implementation has been released yet.

Competition format

Regular season

The regular season of the Indian Super League runs from September to April (since the 2017–18 season).[52] The competition consists of 24 rounds that 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 24 matches each.[53] 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 regular season being crowned ISL Champions and awarded the League Winners Shield (introduced during 2019–20 season).[54]

After the regular season, the team with the most points is declared the Champions and presented with the League Winners Shield, automatically qualifying for the playoffs along with the runners-up. At the same time, the next best four clubs qualify to play qualifying playoffs to join the top two in the playoffs. The position of each team is determined by the highest number of points accumulated during the regular season. If two or more teams are level on points, the following criteria are applied in order until one of the teams can be determined as the higher ranked:[55]

  1. Highest number of points accumulated in matches between the teams concerned;
  2. Highest goal difference in matches between the teams concerned;
  3. Highest number of goals scored in matches between the teams concerned;
  4. Highest goal difference
  5. Highest number of goals scored
  6. Lowest number of red cards accumulated;
  7. Lowest number of yellow cards accumulated;
  8. Toss of a coin.

The Indian Super League approved the 3+1 rule in 2020, a rule limiting the maximum number of foreign players a club was allowed to 3, plus one player of Asian origin. This rule was implemented in the 2021–22 season to increase participation of domestic players.[56]

Playoffs

The top two clubs after the regular season automatically progress to the ISL playoffs. The playoffs culminate with the ISL final, where the winner is presented with the ISL Cup. In the qualifiers, the third-through-sixth ranked teams play a single-elimination match hosted at the higher-ranked team's venue, with the two winners of those matches joining the first and second-ranked teams in two-legged semifinals played over two weeks (since 2022–23).

The two winners of those matches eventually meet in the final hosted at the home stadium of the higher ranked team in the league phase. The home stadium advantage for the higher ranked team was first introduced in the 2023-24 season, with the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan stadium hosting the final as a result of Mohun Bagan SG finishing higher than Mumbai City FC in the league phase.[57]

Indian Super League final host venues
Rank Stadium City Capacity No. Year
1 Fatorda Stadium Margao 19,000 5 2015, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023
2 DY Patil Stadium Mumbai 55,000 1 2014
Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium Kochi 65,000 (reduced to 39,000 for ISL matches) 1 2016
Sree Kanteerava Stadium Bangalore 25,800 1 2018
Mumbai Football Arena Mumbai 18,000 1 2019
Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Kolkata 85,000 1 2024

Continental qualification

As of 2024, Indian Super League teams can qualify for the AFC Champions League Two, the second tier AFC club competition, through their performance in the league. Previously ISL winners had the opportunity to qualify for the top tier AFC club competition, the AFC Champions League but following the revamp of AFC club competitions,[58] India lost the right to qualify for the top tier AFC Champions League Elite.[59] Starting from the 2023-24 season, the ISL Champions will qualify to the group stage of AFC Champions League Two. Mohun Bagan will represent India in the 2024-25 AFC Champions League Two as the 2023-24 ISL Champions.

Additionally, two Indian Super League clubs can qualify for the SAFF Club Championship. Announced in 2023,[60] the SAFF Club Championship consists of eight teams from countries part of the SAFF. Following the conclusion of the 2023-24 season, Mumbai City and FC Goa will participate in the inaugural edition of the competition in 2024.

Before the 2017–18 season, the league was not recognized 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.[61] 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.[62]

Bengaluru became the first Indian Super League club to participate in Asian competition when they participated in the 2018 AFC Cup.[63] 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.[63] 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.[64]

In October 2019, it was announced that the AFC had approved the proposed roadmap from the AIFF, which includes allowing the Indian Super League champion to qualify for the AFC Champions League qualifiers.[65] 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 premier shall qualify directly for the group stage from the 2021 edition onwards.[66] In total 3 spots in AFC club competitions are awarded to India based on the AFC club competitions ranking, including one for the winner of the Indian Super League Final in the AFC Cup qualifying play-offs and one for the champions of I-League, the other top-tier league, in the AFC Cup group stage.[67] In February 2020, Goa became the first ISL club to qualify for the Champions League after they became the ISL Premiers of 2019–20.[49] From the 2022–23 season has I-League ceased to be a top-tier league; hence, the AFC Cup group stage berth is now awarded to the winners of the Super Cup. Starting in 2024, the winners of the Super Cup will qualify for the AFC Champions League Two prelimanary stage following the revamp of the AFC club competitions.

Extracted from the 2024 ranking of nations by their AFC club points[68]
Rank
2024
Rank
2022
Change Region Association 2019 2021 2022 2024 Total Places in AFC Champions League Elite
(GS+PO)
Places in AFC Champions League Two
(GS+PO)
Places in AFC Challenge League
(GS+PO)
GS PO GS PO GS PO
16 16   8 (W)   Tajikistan 3.000 4.970 2.493 2.100 22.363 0 0 1 1 0 0
17 18   +1 9 (W)   Bahrain 2.500 5.510 5.215 5.967 22.315 0 0 1 1 0 0
18 17   -1 10 (W)   India 3.217 3.677 4.797 2.922 22.275 0 0 1 1 0 0
19 28   +9 11 (W)   Oman 1.433 0.000 6.795 9.667 19.935 0 0 0 1 1 0
20 20   12 (W)   Turkmenistan 5.267 3.125 2.640 3.078 19.832 0 0 0 1 1 0

Updated on 29 April 2024
Notes:

Other competitions

In February 2018 it was announced by the AIFF that the Super Cup would be replacing the Federation Cup as Indian football's annual knockout football competition.[69] 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.[70] The Super Cup was contested by all ten sides in the ISL and the top 10 sides from the I-League, the other top flight league in India, during its initial seasons.[70] The top six teams from both leagues qualify automatically for the tournament proper while the bottom four participate in qualifiers.[71] The first editions of the tournament were won by ISL clubs; namely Bengaluru and Goa.

The Super Cup was revived in 2023 with 16 clubs participating. All ISL clubs would participate and the remaining spots would be contested by I-League teams. The 2023 Super Cup was the first instance of the winner qualifying for an AFC club competition, with Odisha FC qualifying for the qualifier for 2023–24 AFC Cup group stage after defeating Bengaluru FC 2-1 in the final. Starting in 2024, the winners of the Super Cup will qualify for the AFC Champions League Two prelimanary stage following the revamp of the AFC club competitions. East Bengal won the 2024 Super Cup and will participate in the 2024–25 AFC Champions League Two preliminary stage.

From 2019 onward, ISL clubs began to participate in Durand Cup on invitation.[72] ATK, Bengaluru, Chennaiyin, Goa and Jamshedpur were the first ones to participate in the tournament, and 2019 Durand Cup was eventually declared as the de facto domestic cup tournament for that season after Super Cup was cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic.[73] In its next edition, Goa became the first club from ISL to win the cup.[74] From 2022 onwards, AIFF and FSDL made it mandatory for all the clubs to participate in the Durand Cup, commencing at the beginning of every football season, thereby to fulfil the minimum number of games played by top-tier clubs set by AFC.[75]

Reliance Foundation Development League

In June 2021 it was proposed by the organizers of ISL after a meeting with the CEOs of all the ISL clubs, that a new developmental league, called the Reliance Foundation Development League, would be introduced in 2022.[76] This new league would consist of the youth and reserve teams of all the ISL clubs, with aim to develop young players as there has been a limited number of competitions and leagues outside the ISL since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The teams would predominantly feature U-21 players with few overage players allowed as well.[77] The inaugural season of the proposed two-month league was to be held in Goa inside a bio-secure bubble between January and March, following the same medical and safety procedures for 2021–22 ISL season, but got postponed to April 15.[78] Out of all the ISL clubs, ATK Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, NorthEast United and Odisha didn't participate due to lack of youth teams, thus only seven clubs took part in the league along with Reliance Foundation Youth Champs football team. The league concluded on 12 May with Bengaluru topping the table and becoming the inaugural champions. Along with Bengaluru, Kerala Blasters qualified for Premier League's NextGen Cup 2022 in the UK as the top two teams in the league.

There was a huge increase in participation for the 2023 RFDL, with 59 clubs competing. Bengaluru FC retained their title after defeating Sudeva Delhi in the final. Along with the two finalists, Mohun Bagan SG and RYFC qualified for the Next Gen Cup.

Punjab FC won the 2024 RDFL and qualified for the Next Gen Cup alongside East Bengal and Muthoot FA.

Vision 2047

2023–2026

The AIFF has broken down ‘Vision 2047’ into six four-year strategic plans.[79] The first of these will cover the period through 2025. According to this plan, starting with the 2026 Indian football season, 40 clubs will participate in the national level (14 clubs), I-League (14 clubs) and I-League 2 (12 clubs). Moreover, 60 clubs will participate in five zonal leagues with a minimum of 12 teams in each zone.[80]

Pyramid (P) Tier (T) No of Teams (2026)
National level P-1 Indian Super League (T-1) 14 teams
I-League (T-2) 14 teams
I-League 2 (T-3) 12 teams
Zonal Level P-2 I-League 2 qualifier. (T-4) 5 Zonal champions.
Zonal Leagues. (T-5) 60 - teams (12 teams in 5 zones)
Zonal League Qualifier (T-6) Various SFA champions.
State level P-3 State football leagues

First Division Leagues (T-7)

Minimum 10 teams
Second Division Leagues (T-8) Minimum 10 teams
State League Qualifier (T-9) Various Districts champions
Districts level P-4 Districts Division Leagues (T-10) Various teams

Clubs

The Indian Super League is currently contested by 13 clubs. A total of 14 clubs have participated in the Indian Super League since its inception in 2014. Most of the clubs that have contested in this league were founded as franchise teams for the league. Six of these clubs have been competing in this league since its inaugural season. The league started with eight clubs but has now expanded to 13 clubs participating in it every season. The eight original clubs included Atlético de Kolkata (renamed as ATK FC), Chennaiyin, Delhi Dynamos (rebranded as Odisha FC), Goa, Kerala Blasters, Mumbai City, NorthEast United and Pune City. In the 2017–18 Indian Super League, two new teams, Bengaluru FC,who entered the league after having a successful spell in the I-League, and Jamshedpur FC, a newly formed franchise club, made their debuts in the league, increasing the number of participating teams from eight to ten.[81] At the end of the 2018–19 Indian Super League, Pune City announced that it will be shutting down its operations. It was the first club in the history of the league to stop its operations. Its place was taken up by Hyderabad who took their place in the succeeding season.[82] In the same season, Delhi Dynamos relocated to Bhubaneswar and rebranded itself as Odisha FC.[83]

In 2020, the demand for the two Kolkata giants - East Bengal and Mohun Bagan - to be playing in Indian Super League increased. In June–July 2020; The owners of ATK, officially disbanded their football team and bought a majority stake in Mohun Bagan FC and rebranded it as ATK Mohun Bagan, which took the spot of ATK in 2020–21 Indian Super League.[84] In September 2020, East Bengal officially announced that it will be participating in the 2020–21 Indian Super League season.[85] This increased the number of teams to eleven. In the 2023–24 season, Punjab FC became the first club to be promoted from the I-League to the ISL,[86] taking the total amount of clubs to 12. Mohammedan was promoted to the 2024–25 season as the 13th club.[87]

2024–25 season

Thirteen clubs are competing in the 2024–25 season – twelve from the previous season and one promoted from the I-League.

Club City Position in 2023–24 First season Seasons in ISL Championships ISL Cups Recent championship Recent ISL Cup
Bengaluru Bangalore, Karnataka 10th 2017–18 7 1 1 2018–19 2018–19
Chennaiyin Chennai, Tamil Nadu 6th 2014 10 2 2 2017–18 2017–18
East Bengal Kolkata, West Bengal 9th 2020–21 4 0 0
Goa Margao, Goa 3rd 2014 10 0 0
Hyderabad Hyderabad, Telangana 12th 2019–20 5 1 1 2021–22 2021–22
Jamshedpur Jamshedpur, Jharkhand 11th 2017–18 7 0 0
Kerala Blasters Kochi, Kerala 5th 2014 10 0 0
Mohammedan Kolkata, West Bengal 2024–25 0 0 0
Mohun Bagan SG Kolkata, West Bengal 1st 2020–21 4 1 1 2023–24 2022–23
Mumbai City Mumbai, Maharashtra 2nd 2014 10 2 2 2022–23 2023–24
NorthEast United Guwahati, Assam 7th 2014 10 0 0
Odisha Bhubaneswar, Odisha 4th 2014 10 0 0
Punjab Mohali, Punjab 8th 2023–24 1 0 0

Promoted clubs (from I-League to ISL)

Defunct clubs
Club Successor City First season Last season Seasons in ISL Championships Recent championship
ATK Mohun Bagan Kolkata, West Bengal 2014 2019–20 6 3 2019–20
Pune City Hyderabad Pune, Maharashtra 2014 2018–19 5 0

Timeline

Championships

As of the end of the 2023–24 season, 13 clubs have competed in the league, with six becoming Cup winners and four earning the League Winners Shield. ATK remains the most successful team in ISL with three Cup titles and Mumbai City remains the most successful League winners with two League Winners Shields, while no team has successfully defended their titles till now. Mumbai City is the only club to have won the double, becoming the League winners as well as the Cup winners during the 2020–21 season.[88]

League and Cup titles by years

Season Regular season Playoffs Top goalscorer(s) Goals
Champions[a]
(Number of titles)
Second[b] Champions[c]
(Number of titles)
Score Runners–up
2014 did not exist Atlético de Kolkata 1–0 Kerala Blasters   Elano (Chennaiyin) 8
2015 Chennaiyin 3–2 Goa   Stiven Mendoza (Chennaiyin) 13
2016 Atlético de Kolkata (2) 1–1 (a.e.t)
(4–3 p)
Kerala Blasters   Marcelinho (Delhi Dynamos) 10
2017–18 Chennaiyin (2) 3–2 Bengaluru   Coro (Goa) 18
2018–19 Bengaluru 1–0 Goa   Coro (Goa) 16
2019–20 Goa ATK ATK (3) 3–1 Chennaiyin   Bartholomew Ogbeche (Kerala Blasters)
  Nerijus Valskis (Chennaiyin)
  Roy Krishna (ATK)
15
2020–21 Mumbai City ATK Mohun Bagan Mumbai City 2–1 ATK Mohun Bagan   Igor Angulo (Goa)
  Roy Krishna (ATK Mohun Bagan)
14
2021–22 Jamshedpur Hyderabad Hyderabad 1–1 (a.e.t)
(3–1 p)
Kerala Blasters   Bartholomew Ogbeche (Hyderabad) 18
2022–23 Mumbai City (2) Hyderabad ATK Mohun Bagan 2–2 (a.e.t)
(4–3 p)
Bengaluru   Cleiton Silva (East Bengal)
  Diego Mauricio (Odisha FC)
  Dimitri Petratos (ATK Mohun Bagan)
12
2023–24 Mohun Bagan SG Mumbai City Mumbai City (2) 3–1 Mohun Bagan SG   Dimitrios Diamantakos (Kerala Blasters)
  Roy Krishna (Odisha)
13
  1. ^ Since 2019–20 season the regular season table toppers called as League Winners are awarded with the League Winners' Shield and are allocated a direct slot in AFC Champions League group stage. From 2023–24 season they are awarded AFC Champions League Two group stage slot.
  2. ^ Since 2019–20 season the regular season runner-ups are allocated a slot in AFC Cup qualifying stage, in case the Champions of the regular season also becomes the Champions of the playoff. From 2023–24 season the regular season runner-up and second runners-up are awarded SAFF Club Championship slot.
  3. ^ From 2017–18 to 2022–23 season the Champions of the playoffs, are allocated a slot in AFC Cup qualifying stage upto 2022–23 season.

League and Cup titles by clubs

Club Total Titles League Titles Season(s) won Cup Titles Year(s) won
Mumbai City 4 2 2020–21, 2022–23 2 2021, 2024
ATK 3 3 2014, 2016, 2020
Chennaiyin 2 2 2015, 2018
Mohun Bagan SG 2 1 2023–24 1 2023
Goa 1 1 2019–20
Jamshedpur 1 1 2021–22
Bengaluru 1 1 2019
Hyderabad 1 1 2022

Ownership

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.[89] The Indian Super League owners act as the competition's "League Partners".[90] 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.[90] 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.[90] Football clubs such as Atlético Madrid and Shillong Lajong were also bid winners.[90]

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.[91] 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.[92]

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.[93] Later in 2018 Tendulkar sold off his shares to the majority stakeholders in the club.

Sponsorship and revenues

In 2014, Hero MotoCorp became the first title sponsor of the Indian Super League in a deal that would last through 2016.[94] On 30 September 2014, a week before the first season, it was announced that Puma would be the official ball supplier of the Indian Super League.[95] 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.[96]

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.[97] Twenty percent of the money gained in the central sponsorship pool goes towards organizing 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.[97] 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.[97] Teams in the league had also signed shirt manufacturing sponsorship deals with companies such as Adidas and Puma.[97]

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.[98] For kit sponsorships, each team is allowed to have six sponsorships on the kit, with teams like ATK regularly filling those spots.[99]

On 23 July 2017 it was announced that Hero MotoCorp would extend their deal as the title sponsor of the Indian Super League for another three years.[100] The company would spend $25 million on the competition during those three years according to Nita Ambani, the league's chairperson.[100]

Media coverage

Television ratings

Star Sports served as the official broadcaster of the league in India for the first nine seasons.[101] In September 2014, it was announced that Star Sports would broadcast the ISL through eight channels in five languages in an attempt to reach 85% of the Indian television audience.[102]

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.[103] 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 then top-tier football league, drew on TEN Action and even the English Premier League.[103] 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.[104] 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.[104]

The league experienced a sharp growth in ratings after the 2016 season with over 216 million viewers on television throughout.[105] 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.[105] Ratings in rural India meanwhile drew 101 million viewers.[105]

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.[106] The league is also streamed online via Disney+ Hotstar, Star India's online streaming service, and Jio TV.[106]

ISL 2019–20 season viewership recorded a 51 percent growth. At the end of the season, the league recorded a 51 percent jump in viewership among the urban affluent sports-savvy audience of M15+AB Urban as per BARC's report.[107]

ISL 2020–21 season saw a growth of 16% pan-India viewership from last 2019–20 season's viewership numbers.[108]

ISL 2021–22 season & ISL 2022–23 season continue to gain steady growth in Media coverage & television viewership. From the 2022-23 season, the home-away format returned. Hence ISL clubs played home matches and attracted full-house matches in stadiums.[109][110][111]

Broadcasters

The matches are being aired on Jio Cinema (Multiple Languages), Sports18 Khel (Hindi), Sports18 1 SD & HD (English), VH1 SD & HD (English), Surya Movies (Malayalam), News18 Kerala (Malayalam), DD Bangla, and Colors Bangla Cinema (Bengali).

Stadiums

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.[112] Three other stadiums are athletic stadiums which are primarily used to host football matches in the I-League: the Fatorda Stadium in Goa, the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan (VYBK) 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 (Chennai) in Chennai, and the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Delhi) in Delhi.[112]

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.[113] ATK moved to the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium when the VYBK was being renovated for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.[114]

For the 2017–18 season, ATK returned to the VYBK 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.[106] Currently Jamshedpur is the only team to play at a self-owned stadium, although East Bengal and Mohun Bagan SG have their respective self-owned stadiums - East Bengal Ground and Mohun Bagan Ground respectively, they both prefer to use the VYBK to host matches.

Home stadiums of current clubs
Bengaluru Chennaiyin East Bengal Goa Hyderabad Jamshedpur
Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bangalore Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan, Kolkata Fatorda Stadium, Margao G. M. C. Balayogi Athletic Stadium, Hyderabad JRD Tata Sports Complex, Jamshedpur
Capacity: 25,800 Capacity: 40,000 Capacity: 85,000 Capacity: 30,000 Capacity: 30,000 Capacity: 24,424
           
Kerala Blasters Mohun Bagan SG Mumbai City NorthEast United Odisha Punjab
Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium, Kochi Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan, Kolkata Mumbai Football Arena, Mumbai Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, Guwahati Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Delhi
Capacity: 80,000 Capacity: 85,000 Capacity: 6,600 Capacity: 25,000 Capacity: 12,000 Capacity: 60,000
           

Coaches

Managers or head coaches in the ISL are involved in the day-to-day running of the team, including the training, team selection, and player acquisition. Their influence varies from club to club and is related to the ownership of the club. An AFC 'Pro' Diploma license, which is the final coaching qualification available in AFC member nation, and follows the completion of the AFC 'B' Diploma and AFC 'A' Diploma licenses, or any equivalent coaching license is required by a head coach in ISL.[115] Moreover, every head coach must have at least one Indian assistant coach who must also possess an AFC 'Pro' Diploma license, although an Indian goalkeeping coach is not considered as an assistant coach to fulfil the aforementioned criterion.[115] Unqualified caretaker manager can be appointed to fill the gap between the managerial departure and a new appointment.

Antonio López Habas is the longest-serving head coach, having been in charge of ATK, Pune City and Mohun Bagan SG for 111 matches from 2014 to 2024. Sergio Lobera is the most successful coach in ISL history with two League Winner's Shields and an ISL Championship.

Current head coaches
Nat Head coach Club Appointed Time as head coach
  Staikos Vergetis Punjab 8 August 2022 1 year, 313 days
  Carles Cuadrat East Bengal 25 April 2023 1 year, 52 days
  Sergio Lobera Odisha 17 May 2023 1 year, 30 days
  Juan Pedro Benali NorthEast United 22 May 2023 1 year, 25 days
  Manolo Márquez Goa 2 June 2023 1 year, 14 days
  Thangboi Singto Hyderabad 7 July 2023 345 days
  Owen Coyle Chennaiyin 16 July 2023 336 days
  Petr Kratky Mumbai City 9 December 2023 190 days
  Gerard Zaragoza Bengaluru 14 December 2023 185 days
  Khalid Jamil Jamshedpur 31 December 2023 168 days
  Antonio López Mohun Bagan SG 3 January 2024 165 days

Players

Appearances

As of 4 May 2024[116]
Most appearances
Rank Player Apps Years
1   Pritam Kotal 162 2014–
  Amrinder Singh 162 2015–
3   Lenny Rodrigues 159 2014–
4   Mandar Rao Dessai 155 2014–
  Sunil Chhetri 155 2015–
6   Rahul Bheke 150 2015–
7   Lallianzuala Chhangte 144 2016–
8   Subhasish Bose 142 2017–
9   Harmanjot Singh Khabra 140 2014–
10   Sandesh Jhingan 139 2014–

Transfer regulations and foreign players

Player transfers may only take place within transfer windows set by the AIFF and approved by the FIFA. The two transfer windows run from June 9 to August 31 and from January 1 to January 31. Player registrations cannot be exchanged outside these windows except under a specific license from the AIFF, usually on an emergency basis; if a player is injured and ruled out for at least two months, the club can permanently replace him, also if the club terminates the contract of a registered player, then a replacement can be signed.[117] Although loan transfers and registrations can take place even outside the transfer windows.

During the initial seasons, the no. of foreigners in a squad varied from 7–10, which was gradually reduced as the league achieved AFC and FIFA recognition, and the organizers emphasized more on developing Indian players. As of 2021–22, a club can have a maximum squad strength of 35 men, including at most 6 foreigners (1 of them must belong to an AFC member nation) and 3 registered goalkeepers.[118] A club can also have an injury replacement for a domestic player.[118] If a club registers less than 35 players by the end of the window, they can still fill the quota post the stipulated date provided the player is a free agent. FSDL also mandated the clubs to sign at least 4 under-21 players, with a minimum of 2 of them being a part of the matchday squad.[118] Previously, it was also mandatory for the clubs to get the approval of the league for three of their foreign signings, wherein players who played a minimum of 1000 minutes last season were automatically approved. But this rule was later scrapped and the clubs no longer need to approach the organisers for approval.

Top scorers

 
Bartholomew Ogbeche is the all-time top scorer in Indian Super League history.
As of 4 May 2024[119]
Rank Player Goals Apps Ratio Years
1   Bartholomew Ogbeche 63 98 0.64 2018–2023
2   Sunil Chhetri 61 155 0.39 2015–
3   Roy Krishna 55 107 0.51 2019–
4   Coro 48 57 0.84 2017–2020
5   Lallianzuala Chhangte 40 144 0.28 2016–
6   Diego Maurício 38 71 0.54 2020–
7   Cleiton Silva 36 78 0.46 2020–
8   Marcelinho 34 87 0.39 2016–2022
9   Hugo Boumous 30 103 0.29 2018–
10   Iain Hume 29 69 0.42 2014–2019

Bold denotes players still playing in the Indian Super League.

Wages

Every club has to follow a squad salary cap of ₹16.5 crores (≈ $2.2 million), which includes individual performance bonuses (exclusive of team bonus), agent/intermediary fees, and other arrangements with the players, although loan wages and transfer fees are not included within the salary cap. A club has an option to sign a marquee player, through the League's approval, whose salary is excluded from the stated salary cap. Failing to follow the regulations, a club may risk deduction of points, possible fines, and/or sanctions by the league.[120]

Awards

Trophy

The Indian Super League Cup was unveiled on 5 October 2014, by Nita Ambani, the founder and chairperson of Football Sports Development.[121] 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".[121]

League Winners Shield

On 19 February 2020 the FSDL unveiled the League Winners Shield for the ISL premiers to be awarded from 2019–20 season onwards.[122]

Designed by Frazer and Haws, the ISL cup 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 of gold gilt to imbue a sense of pride when held up.[121] The League Winners' Shield, weighing approx. 5 kg with a diameter of 22 inches draws inspiration from global football traditions and design tones of the ISL cup. The wreath carved around the silver football symbolizes the victors of The Beautiful Game.

Individual awards

In addition to the League Winners' Shield and the ISL Cup, the organizers also issue other awards throughout the season. A Man of the Match award, referred to as the Hero of the Match due to sponsorship reasons, is presented to the player who had the most impact in an individual match.

Monthly awards are also given for the Hero of the Month and Emerging Player of the Month. These are also issued after each season for the Hero of the League and the Emerging Player of the League[123]

The Golden Boot is awarded to the top goalscorer of each season, the Winning Pass of the League award is presented to the top assist provider of each season and the Golden Glove is awarded to the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets in a season.

Partnerships

  • The Indian Super League has a strategic partnership with the Premier League.[124][125]
  • ISL announced a landmark partnership with London-based Terra Virtua Limited to launch its exclusive Non-fungible token (NFT) as digital collectibles ahead of the 2021–22 season.[126]
  • Indian Super League and South Asia's leading esports company NODWIN Gaming on 26 October 2021 announced the launch of eISL effectively meant that Hero Indian Super League in collaboration with EA Sports became the country's first major sports league to venture into competitive gaming.[127]

See also

Preceded by
I-League (from 2022)
Division 1 Football League in India
2019–present
Succeeded by
Incumbent

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