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READ IN FULL- Rebel I-League clubs' alternate roadmap for the future of Indian football

THE NINE I-LEAGUE CLUBS who have joined hands in a rebellion against AIFF, have come out with an alternative vision for the future of league football in India.

The current plan of re-structuring leagues that's proposed by AIFF and IMG-Reliance (FSDL) plans to forcefully relegate most of the top division clubs and unilaterally make Indian Super League the new top league of the country.

The unfairly relegated clubs will not even have a path to win back their place in the top flight, because there will be no promotion-relegation between the first and second tier in this system, which will eliminate any competitive incentive from the lower leagues. And a hefty franchise fee mandatory for clubs who wish to play in the top tier will ensure that most of the independent clubs will not be able to afford a team in the highest league of the country, setting them on a path of steady decline and possible shutdown.

All the clubs in I-League excluding Shillong Lajong and the AIFF-owned developmental side Indian Arrows are opposing this draconian measure, and to register their protest they have pulled out of the Super Cup 2019 tournament.

Earlier this week, representatives of all nine clubs met at the Taj Coromandel hotel in Chennai and after a series of meetings they have come up with the proposal of an alternative new top division league that's bigger and better with 20 clubs, does not forcefully relegate any club and unifies I-League and ISL clubs in a single big league. It will also make sure the league system stays open, with the bottom 2 clubs being relegated to second tier, making way for the top 2 clubs from the second tier league to be promoted to the top league.

The proposal also includes a new proposed financial structure that they claim will be more sustainable than the current ISL franchise fee system.

Here's the entire proposal that has been put forth by the clubs...

I-League

• Founded in 1996 as National Football League later reincarnated as I-League in 2007.
• Currently 11 teams participating on a pan India basis with a developmental team also in the ranks.
• Traditional promotion and relegation system in place with one team relegated and one promoted to and from 2nd Division respectively.
• There is no Franchise fee.
• 110 matches played across the season. In 10 venues.
• In-stadia attendance has grown by 58% last season. This years figures have surpassed the last year’s figures as well, with limited or no marketing at all.
• Awarded Silver medal by AFC in the category of Best Emerging League in 2018.

ISL

• Launched in 2014.
• Ten franchises based in the following cities: Chennai, Delhi, Goa, Guwahati, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and Jamshedpur.
• Closed League without promotion or relegation.
• Franchise fee is mandatory to participate. (Varying between INR 13-18 Crores per annum)
• 95 matches with semis and final after league completion.
• Interest and viewership has been on the decline even after huge costs incurred on marketing.
• Franchises lack community connect.
• Franchises incurring huge loses year after year.

Concern areas

• I-League clubs have been the backbone of the development of Indian football and is now facing an uncertain future.
• All ISL Indian players have their roots in some I-League Club or the other but that fact is being overlooked.
• There is no marketing of the league whatsoever.
• The question arises why is these new franchises being protected over heritage clubs of the country.
• As per the current format, the Franchises of ISL are incurring huge loss every year and there are absolutely no chances or a roadmap to recover the losses in the near future. Hence the sustainability of the League falls under a big Question.

Way Forward

INDIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE
• A 20 team professional league i.e. – IFL (Indian Football League)
• Duration of the league: 9 Months, September to May.
• Cup games to be played between game weeks. (European format)
• Providing players with approximately 40 matches which is a minimum requirement for their development.
• Marketing of the league to be done centrally.
• All matches to be broadcasted live.
• Promotion and Relegation to be implemented with no exemptions. (2 teams promoted and 2 teams relegated)
• Parachute payment to be made to relegated teams.
• Maximum number of 4 foreigners in each team (More focus on domestic players + reduced overall budget.)
• Mandatory signing of players from home states (Developing local talent and maintaining community connect)
• Strong Youth Development Projects of all teams.

Financial Suggestions

• At present ISL clubs are paying franchise fee of INR 13-18 Crores and receiving INR 8-12 Crores from the central pool.
• FSDL effectively raised net 150 Crores by marketing the 95 games in the season.
• The proposed 20 team revamped League, would have 380 matches. (4X the current number)
• We can take a conservative/ practical approach and generate a total net sponsorship revenue to the tune of INR 325 Crores (Slightly more than 2X increase).
• This revenue can be divided in the following way: 20 teams X 12 crores = 240 Crores
Pool amount to AIFF = 50 Crores
16 teams of 2nd Division X 2 crores = 32 Crores
Parachute payment (2 relegated teams) X 2 crores = 4 Crores
• Investments can be done by the clubs in youth development, Infrastructure development (floodlights, various rooms, etc), fan and community engagement, in-stadia experience enhancements and improve overall home
match organisation.
• The additional funds available with the clubs would help them to fulfil various AFC club licensing criteria in its true spirit.
• Mandatory 10% of team’s budget to be spent on youth development in line with AFC Club Licensing Criteria.
• Each team to pay INR 2 Crore participation money to AIFF / FSDL and no other franchisee / participation fee.

The clubs have also written an open letter to the All India Football Federation's General Secretary Mr Kushal Das. Here's the full letter in the Gokulam Kerala FC letterhead...

Courtesy - Gokulam Kerala FC

It's fair to say this proposal and approach to build a future for Indian football differs radically from the vision pushed by IMG-Reliance. But it's hard to see a case where AIFF and FSDL agree to this, and how the clubs propose to offset the huge jump in production, marketing and broadcasting costs of a league with 380 matches.

However, this proposal is likely meant to be a starting point for the clubs' negotiations with FSDL and AIFF. It remains to be seen whether the Federation and their commerical partners will show any interest to meet these clubs in the middle.

The top division clubs have threatened to take the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) if they are not given an audience by AIFF and forcefully relegated to second tier. 

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