For long, football in India has struggled to get sponsors. Lack of visibility owing to poor television coverage and poorer attendance are among the reasons cited.
Till the Indian Super League (ISL) showed up, that is. Most franchises have signed sponsorship deals worth between Rs 5-8 crore for this season, said an official with a brand management company connected to the competition. It's definitely not on the scale of IPL deals but worth much more than similar leagues in hockey and badminton, sports where India performs much better than it does in football.
"Going by the response (to the ISL), I feel football has firmly placed itself as No. 2 in terms of popularity in India," said Larsing Ming Sawyan, co-owner of North East United FC.
Mumbai City FC have reportedly clinched a shirt deal worth Rs 5 crore. They are said to be looking at sleeve sponsor willing to pay Rs 1 crore. "We have priced our inventory at a slight premium compared to most other teams," said Indranil Blah, Mumbai's head of management.
"We have had a great start with a total of nine sponsors and partners," said an FC Goa official requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Sponsorship, sale of tickets, merchandising and an equal share from the central revenue and broadcasting pool are the main sources of income for ISL's eight franchises. "Around 80% of the central pool will go to the teams," said a league official. The league is learnt to have garnered sponsorship worth around Rs 80 crore for the first season. That means each franchise could expect `8cr from the central sponsorship pool.
While most franchises are tying up loose ends when it comes to merchandising, home team shirts are available at most ISL venues. Chennaiyin FC are selling theirs for around Rs 295.
On the anvil are plans to peddle mobile covers, key chains, flags, coffee mugs and hoodies. North East United are even thinking of selling mufflers. "With time, we are planning to open a few stores in the city too," said Atletico de Kolkata co-owner Utsav Parekh. Most of the franchises are also looking to sign-up with portals to sell merchandise.
"Ranbir (Kapoor, co-owner) has insisted that we do not turn our players into billboards, so we are keeping our sponsorship slots on the jersey to the minimum. Instead, we are looking at merchandising," said Blah.
"It would take a couple of seasons to pick up," said Gaurav Modwel, the FC Pune City CEO.
Till then, gate sales, sponsorships and earnings from the central pool would be the main revenue streams. With the smallest stadium among the eight, FC Pune City are looking at around Rs 1.5-2 crore from selling tickets. With average attendance at Salt Lake stadium touching 60,000, Atletico de Kolkata is looking at much more despite a flat 30% discount on the original prices.
"We realised to bring die-hard fans, the ticket prices needed to be lowered," said Parekh.
Covering costs is still a dream but franchises say they are willing to bide time. "We are not targeting much in terms of revenue in the first year," said Viren d'Silva, the general manager of Kerala Blasters who play their first home game on November 6.
FC Goa, its official said, are willing to give the project four to five seasons. Even if it's longer there may not be problems as a number of the team owners are connected either to the All India Football Federation or those organising the ISL. "Their influence has been massive in getting corporate India to connect with football," said the official with the brand management company.According to the business plan shared with ISL's prospective owners earlier this year, franchises are likely to spend around Rs 40 crore and earn approximately Rs 22 crore in the first season. It is only around 2017 with a projected jump in broadcast revenue that they would be in the black. A lot may change by then but at least now no one is saying football in India doesn't attract the moolah.