East Bengal’s tryst with finances to play in the Indian Super League (ISL) is the longest conundrum in Indian football in recent times.
The Red and Gold are in the news for more than six months now with reports suggesting that the Kolkata giants are in vigorous pursuit of sorting their finances to qualify on financial terms to play in the cash-rich franchise tournament.
ISL offers larger avenues in multiple aspects
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) adjudged ISL as the ‘premier’ league of Indian football at the start of the 2019-20 Indian Super League season. Till then, ISL was a complimenting marketing tournament to the top division, the I-League.
ISL’s recognition as the top division of the country allowed itself to get its teams to play in the AFC Champions League. The league’s coverage across numerous television channels in multiple languages allows a huge boost to the possible reach of the participating teams.
According to the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) of India, ISL has witnessed a 51% growth in viewership numbers in the 2019-20 season from the previous campaign.
It recorded more than 260 million impressions on digital platforms. Such reach and viewership would allow East Bengal to make larger in-roads in the urban Indian football fans in India.
East Bengal’s fanbase is mostly organic and moulded from family and ethnic traditions. A financial boost to their already big numbers could make East Bengal stand out as the most supported Indian football club.
The usage of social media is also pivotal to the success of the league on coverage terms. Such impressive numbers will push sponsors to invest in the Indian football market and particularly in East Bengal over the years, creating a dual promotion mechanism of brands.
ISL’s arrival in the Indian football scene in the 2013-14 Indian football season has changed Indian football forever. The league was criticized and blamed for just being a ‘franchise tournament’ with no intention to develop the game for the initial few years.
However, the organisers, the Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), liberalized the standards and protocols of the league and offered bigger responsibilities to the teams.
Teams have managed to tie-up with European Football clubs like Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Feyenoord, Rangers and Fiorentina in investment or partnership deals.
This allows a further mode of professional outreach in the Indian football clubs. Sharing of technicalities and ecosystems allows Indian Super League teams to stabilise themselves and retain sporting benefits.
Players in India and abroad now look at ISL as a decent playing option with the opportunity to play in the AFC Champions League.
Player wages have stabilised and longer contracts are slowly becoming a norm. ISL’s changed approach to the league with a long-term objective is the perfect solution for East Bengal, who are plagued by mismanagement and gross misappropriation of authority.
What does East Bengal offer?
Undoubtedly, East Bengal’s biggest strength are their fans. East Bengal recorded the highest average attendance (27270) in the 2018-19 Indian football season.
The figures were higher than all the teams in the Indian Super League as well. ISL’s marketing and financial outreach failed to overcome East Bengal’s organic outreach in terms of stadium attendances.
The same alone is enough testimony to the capability of East Bengal fans to emerge as a business asset. East Bengal’s inclusion in the Indian Super League will boost TV viewership by manifold along with the stadium attendances.
Larger numbers are automatically a catalyst for companies to invest in the league aiming larger brand visibility, thus further liberating the existing central pool.
TV viewership gets paramount importance since the 2020-21 edition is all set to be played behind closed doors. East Bengal’s eternal rivalry with Mohun Bagan (now ATK Mohun Bagan) in the Kolkata Derby is perhaps the biggest marketing tool for the authorities to push the league.
A game of that stature will be an asset for the business aspect of the league.
Time is against East Bengal in their pursuit to play the top division in 2020-21 itself. The club authorities need to act outside of their ambit and put the interests of the club ahead of their personal interests.
East Bengal’s inclusion in the ISL could be the turning point for the club as well as the league in respective aspects.