Indian Super League

Indian Super League
Organising body All India Football Federation (AIFF)
Founded 21 October 2013 (2013-10-21)
Country India
Confederation AFC (Asia)
Number of teams 10
Level on pyramid 1
Domestic cup(s) Super Cup
International cup(s) AFC Cup
Current champions Chennaiyin
Most championships ATK
(2 titles each)
Most appearances Iain Hume (59)
Top goalscorer Iain Hume(28 goals)
TV partners Star Sports (live telecast)
Hotstar (online streaming)
2018–19 Indian Super League season

The Indian Super League (ISL) is a men's professional football league in India. For sponsorship reasons, the league is officially known as the Hero Indian Super League. One of the top football leagues in the country, it currently shares the top spot in the Indian football league system with the I-League.[1] The league is contested by 10 teams and ran from November to March during the 2017–18 season.[2]

Founded on 21 October 2013 in partnership with IMG, Reliance Industries, and Star Sports, the Indian Super League was launched with the goal of growing the sport of football in India and increase its exposure in the country.[3] The league's first season took place in 2014 with eight teams. During the first three seasons of the Indian Super League, the league operated without official recognition from the Asian Football Confederation, the governing body for the sport in Asia.[4] The league also operated along the same lines of the Indian Premier League, the country's premier Twenty20 cricket competition, with the league campaign lasting for only two to three months and matches being held every day.[5] However, before the 2017–18 season, the league earned recognition from the AFC, expanded to ten teams, and extended its schedule to five months, with matches played mainly on weekends.[1][2]

Unlike most football leagues around the world, the Indian Super League does not use promotion and relegation, instead choosing to grow the league through expansion, similar to Major League Soccer in the United States.[5] During the league's first four seasons, two teams have been crowned champions, both winning twice each. ATK won the first title in 2014 before winning their second title in 2016. Chennaiyin are the other club to be crowned as champions, having done so in both 2015 and 2018.



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, being founded in 1888.[6][7] 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.[8] Prior to the creation of the National Football League, most clubs played in state leagues or select nationwide tournaments.[8]

Ten years after the formation of the National Football League, the All India Football Federation, the governing body for the sport in India, decided to reformat the league as the I-League in an effort to professionalize the game.[9] However, during the following seasons, the league would suffer from a lack of popularity due to poor marketing and poor quality of football.[10]

In September 2005, the AIFF signed a 10-year television and media contract with Zee Sports. The deal would see Zee broadcast the National Football League and I-League, as well as other tournaments organized by the AIFF and select India international matches.[11] However, in October 2010, the deal between the AIFF and Zee Sports was terminated five years early after differences between both parties related to payment and how to grow the game in India.[12]

A couple months later, 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.[13] The deal gave IMG–Reliance exclusive commercial rights to sponsorship, advertising, broadcasting, merchandising, video, franchising, and the right to create a new football league.[13]

As commercial partners for the AIFF, IMG–Reliance were responsible for the marketing and organization of the I-League.[13] However, in February 2012, it was revealed that I-League clubs were not happy with the federation's commercial partners and believed IMG–Reliance had done little to try and promote the country's then top domestic football league.[14] However, the AIFF reassured the clubs that the federation, as well as IMG–Reliance, had plans to improve the league prior to the 2012–13 season and maybe even revamp the tournament along the lines of Major League Soccer of the United States.[14]

In June 2013, word had come out that IMG–Reliance were planning to start their own franchise-based tournament for 2013 and also divide the I-League into two conferences. This idea was not well received by I-League clubs who decided to refuse to loan any of their players for the IMG–Reliance proposed tournament or sign any players already contracted to the company.[15] However, by August 2013, it was revealed that IMG–Reliance had signed the required number of players needed to start their own tournament and that the tournament would have the backing of the AIFF.[16]


The Indian Super League was officially launched on 21 October 2013 by IMGReliance, Star Sports, and the All India Football Federation.[3] The league was announced to take place from January 2014 to March 2014.[17] A few days later however, on 29 October 2013, it was announced that the ISL would be postponed to September 2014.[17]

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 consortiums.[18] However, due to the rescheduling of the league, the bidding was moved to 3 March 2014.[19] 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.[20] Finally, in early April 2014, the winning bidders were announced.[21] The selected cities/state were Bangalore, Delhi, Goa, Guwahati, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Pune.[21] 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.[21] 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.[21]

The first team to be launched officially was the Kolkata franchise as Atlético de Kolkata on 7 May 2014.[22] On 7 July 2014, the team announced the first head coach in league history, Antonio López Habas.[23] The next day, Kolkata also announced the first official marquee signing in the Indian Super League, UEFA Champions League winner Luis García.[24]

Eventually, all eight teams were revealed as Atlético de Kolkata, Bangalore Titans, Delhi Dynamos, Goa, Kerala Blasters, Mumbai City, NorthEast United and Pune City.[25][26] However, on 21 August 2014, it was announced that due to Bangalore's owners dropping out, Chennai would be given a franchise instead.[27] The team was eventually named Chennaiyin FC.[28] At the same time, the original marquee players were Luis García, Elano, Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pirès, David James, Fredrik Ljungberg, Joan Capdevila, and David Trezeguet.[25]

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.[29] 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.[30]

Recognition and expansion

For the first three seasons of the Indian Super League, the league operated without official recognition from the governing body for football in Asia, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and FIFA, the world governing body.[1] In October 2014, then FIFA General Secretary 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.[31] With no recognition from the AFC, the league also couldn't participate in Asian club competitions, the AFC Champions League or AFC Cup.[31]

During the first three seasons of the Indian Super League, attendances across the league had exceeded expectations of pundits and of the domestic I-League.[32] Television ratings were also strong for the league as well as social media interaction.[32] However, despite the general success off the pitch, the league 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.[33] 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.[34] India head coach Stephen Constantine had called for both the ISL and I-League to either run together at the same time or merge.[35]

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 ISL would also expand by two teams and continue to operate without promotion and relegation 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, I-League representatives, and the AFC met 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 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.[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.[39] It was also stated that the league would now run for five months starting with the 2017–18 season and the league would 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 Thiruvanathapuram.[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 league announced officially that it would be expanding its season by two months, thus making the league last for five months instead of three. The league would also go from having matches played daily to being played between Wednesday and Sunday.[42]

Competition format

From the 2017–18 season, the Indian Super League will run from November to March.[2] Unlike previous seasons, matches will only take place between Wednesday and Sunday each week, instead of daily.[42] Despite the increased number of teams, the playoffs will still run the same way they did previous seasons.[42] Prior to the 2017–18 season, the league ran from October to December. The regular season would begin in October and end by early December while the playoffs would take place within the next two to three weeks.[43] The regular season would be fourteen matches long, with each team playing each other twice.[44] The top four sides at the end qualify for the playoffs. The first round of the playoffs sees the first placed team take on the fourth placed team while the second placed team faces the third.[44]

During the playoffs, the first round is played in a two-legged format with both teams playing each other at their home venues. At the end of the two matches, the team which leads on aggregate would move on to the final.[44] The final is a single-leg match which takes place in a neutral venue. If scores were tied on aggregate in the first round or in the final, 30 minutes of extra time would be used to determine the winner and finally, if still tied, penalties.[44]

Qualification for AFC Cup

In July 2017, it was proposed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) that the Indian Super League champion be granted a spot in the AFC Cup, Asia's second-tier club competition.[38] On 25 July 2017, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) approved the AIFF's proposal. Thus, from the 2017–18 season, the Indian Super League champions were allowed to participate in the AFC Cup from the qualification stages of the competition.[38] Meanwhile, India's spot in the AFC Champions League, Asia's top club competition, was still kept by the I-League.[38]

During the 2018 AFC Cup, Bengaluru became the first ISL club to participate in Asian club competition. The club qualified by virtue of being the Federation Cup champions from the previous season.[45] On 17 March 2018, Chennaiyin became the first club to qualify for the AFC Cup via becoming the Indian Super League champions after they defeated Bengaluru in the 2018 final.[46]


The Indian Super League consists of ten teams from nine different states in India.[47] Unlike other football leagues, the ISL does not use promotion and relegation but instead uses expansion like Major League Soccer in the United States and the A-League in Australia. In 2017, the league added two new clubs for the first time when Bengaluru and Jamshedpur were awarded expansion teams.[47]

For the upcoming 2018–19 season, each team can have a maximum of 25 players on their roster and a minimum of 22.[48] Of the 22–25 players on the roster, only a maximum of seven players can be foreign while at least two must be Indian developmental players.[48] Each team is also allowed to spend a maximum of ₹17.5 crore on their squad, as that will be the salary cap for this season.[48] Finally, each team is also allowed to sign a marquee foreign player who wouldn't count towards the salary cap but it isn't a requirement.[48]


Mumbai CityPune City The highly anticipated Maharashtra derby between the two is one between teams with the closest proximity in the league and is hence one of the strongest rivalries And Classic Derbies of ISL



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.[59] The Indian Super League owners act as the league's "League Partners".[60] British professional services group, Ernst & Young, were hired to draw up criteria for the team bidding process and they were required to approve the potential owners.[60] 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.[60] Football clubs such as Atlético Madrid and Shillong Lajong were also bid winners.[60]

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 league after the league rejected their potential tie-up with then I-League club Bengaluru FC.[61] 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.[62]

The league 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 bought in businessman Nimmagadda Prasad and film stars Allu Aravind, Chiranjeevi, and Akkineni Nagarjuna after PVP Ventures withdrew their stake in the team.[63]


Since the league 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.[64] 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.[64]

For the 2016 season, two new stadiums were used in the league, 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.[65] ATK moved to the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium after the Salt Lake Stadium was being renovated for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.[66]

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 league. Bengaluru would host matches at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium while Jamshedpur would play at the JRD Tata Sports Complex.[67]

Sponsorship and revenues

On 18 July 2014, it was announced that Hero MotoCorp would be the first title sponsor of the Indian Super League.[68] The deal is scheduled to last for three-years from 2014 to 2016.[68] On 30 September 2014, a week before the first season, it was announced that German sports manufacture, Puma SE, would be the official ball supplier of the Indian Super League.[69] The company provides balls for matches and training sessions.[69]

The league relies heavily on a central sponsorship pool. League stakeholders, Star Sports and IMG–Reliance, manage the central sponsorship pool and market the league to potential investors and sponsors.[70] Twenty percent of the money gained in the central sponsorship pool goes towards organizing the league 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 league to improve infrastructure and facilities, which meant that the teams lost money during the first season.[70] The next season saw a change, however, with the central sponsorship pool doubling to around 100 crore due to new league–wide sponsorships with corporates such as Flipkart and DHL Express. Teams were also able to increase their intake in sponsorships in 2015 with shirt sponsorship deals worth double from the previous season and around nine advertisements allowed on team kits.[70] Teams in the league had also signed shirt manufacturing sponsorship deals with companies such as Adidas and Puma.[70]

For the 2016 season, it was projected that the league would gain more sponsors compared to the previous season, especially since the league would occur during the Indian festive periods.[71] For kit sponsorships, each team is allowed to have six sponsorships on the kit, with teams like ATK regularly filling those spots.[72]

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.[73] The company would spend $25 million on the league during those three years according to Nita Ambani, the league's chairperson.[73]


The Indian Super League trophy was unveiled on 5 October 2014, by Nita Ambani, the founder and chairperson of Football Sports Development.[74] 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".[74]

Designed by Frazer and Haws, the trophy stands 26 inches tall. The logo on the top band has the ISL colours 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.[74]

Media coverage

With Star Sports being one of the organizers of the Indian Super League, they also serve as the official broadcasters of the league in India.[75] The goal of Star Sports for the league was to "use its superior content creation, packaging and presentation expertise to attract and retain viewer interest."[75] 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 of its kind in Indian sporting history.[76]

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.[77] 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 to 30 times more than what the I-League, India's other top-tier football league, drew on TEN Action and even the Premier League.[77] 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.[78] 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.[78]

The league experienced a sharp growth in ratings after the 2016 season with over 216 million viewers on television throughout.[79] 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.[79] Ratings in rural India meanwhile drew 101 million viewers.[79]

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 Hindi and Tamil and thru various regional channels in different languages.[80] The league was also streamed online via Hotstar, Star Sports' online streaming service.[80]

League championships

Finals results

Season Date Winner Score Runners–up Venue Attendance Hero of the League Semi-finalists
2014 20 December Atlético de Kolkata 1–0 Kerala Blasters DY Patil Stadium 36,484 Iain Hume Chennaiyin, Goa
2015 20 December Chennaiyin 3–2 Goa Fatorda Stadium 18,477 Stiven Mendoza Atlético de Kolkata, Delhi Dynamos
2016 18 December Atlético de Kolkata 1–1 (4–3) Kerala Blasters Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium 54,146 Florent Malouda Delhi Dynamos, Mumbai City
2017–18 17 March Chennaiyin 3–2 Bengaluru Sree Kanteerava Stadium 25,753 Sunil Chhetri Goa, Pune City

Finals by team

Club Championships Runners-up Winning seasons Runner-up seasons
ATK 2 0 2014, 2016 -
Chennaiyin 2 0 2015, 2017-18 -
Kerala Blasters 0 2 - 2014, 2016
Goa 0 1 - 2015
Bengaluru 0 1 - 2017-18

Player records

Statistics below are for all-time leaders as of the end of the 2017–18 season.

See also


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