Is India Global Football’s Next Goldmine?

When the Indian Super League (ISL) launched, it was suggested to owners that profitability would be achieved within five years. While that vision hasn’t necessarily played out as planned, with a young population and a country where the top 10 cities are forecast to exceed the total population of Germany by 2030, there is huge potential.

As the world turns its attention to India hosting the under-17 World Cup, it’s important to consider the potential opportunities and risks for the Indian Super League for anyone looking to invest or partner with the league.

Indian Super League is here to stay…                        

As a growth market, India boasts a relatively young population, with a median age of less than 30 years old and is forecast to surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2028 – with 1.48 billion people in 2030. This creates a favourable demographic profile that could be a potential goldmine for football brands.

The coming 2017-2018 season will extend by two months and add two new teams to the competition, making the ISL the one of only  two professional football leagues expanding its number of participants.

The ISL came into being in October 2013 as a result of collaboration between three organisations:

  • Reliance industries: one of India’s leading industrial conglomerates and key source of initial funding
  • IMG: global events management company that has played a role in the set-up of other professional leagues (such as the Chinese Super League)
  • Star TV: owner of multiple global media interests and also played a crucial role in the rise of the English Premier League over the last 25 years

A convergence of media, celebrity and business interests has been key to the success of the ISL to date. Administration of the league has also benefitted from a more commercially driven approach than the officially sanctioned I-League.

Will investors need to play a long game?

On the other hand, the ISL lacks the maturity seen in Western Europe so the first hurdle to overcome will be to further solidify football as a leading sport in India. Football as a sport needs to find a way to surpass (or successfully co-exist with) the national passion for cricket. Given the Indian Premier League is the most attended professional club cricket league in the world, it shows no sign of being displaced anytime soon.

Beyond this, the domestic game in India has for a long-time lacked credibility, with a national federation that is seen as, at best, bureaucratic and ineffective. For some, the national federation is considered incompetent.

Although there is little doubt that Indian Super League has entered the mass consciousness for Indian sports fans, the league is still a very long-way from turning into a profitable venture and considerable risks remain. The market is huge, the potential is great, but benefactors are likely to remain critical to the sustainability of the league for the foreseeable future: ticketing income for the most successful team (Atletico de Kolkata) was less than US$1 million in 2016.

The FIFA under 17 World Cup will be a key test of India’s ability to host major international tournaments. Many high profile club teams will be watching closely as the successful staging of the competition will be a key bellwether for what could become a growing number of pre-season friendlies in India involving major clubs from Europe and elsewhere over the next few years.

To learn more about the opportunities for the Indian Super League, download our report extract Indian Super League: Outlook and Opportunities.  This report reviews Indian Super League’s performance over the three seasons completed to date (2014, 2015 and 2016), comparing trends in attendance, ticket revenue, social media and partnerships.