Indian Super League
|Organising bodies||AIFF and FSDL|
|Founded||21 October 2013|
|Number of teams||11|
|Level on pyramid||1|
|Domestic cup(s)||Super Cup|
|International cup(s)||AFC Champions League|
|Current champions||ATK (3rd title) |
|Current League Winners Shield||Goa (1st title) |
|Most championships||ATK (3 titles)|
|Most League Winners Shields||Goa|
|Most appearances||Mandar Rao Dessai (105)|
|Top goalscorer||Coro (48)|
|TV partners||Star Sports (live matches)|
Disney+ Hotstar (streaming) and Jio TV (streaming)
|Current: 2020–21 Indian Super League season|
The Indian Super League (ISL) is a professional football league which represents the sport's highest level in Indian football system. It is organized by the All India Football Federation and their commercial partners Football Sports Development. The league comprises 11 clubs with each season generally running from November to March. During the league stage of the competition, each club will play 20 games against the others in a round-robin style. The top four clubs at the end of the league stage will qualify for the play-offs. The season will then culminate with the ISL Final to determine the champion. The league has been officially known as the Hero Indian Super League since its inception, due to a sponsorship agreement with Hero MotoCorp.
The competition was founded on 21 October 2013 with the goal of growing the sport of football in India and increasing its exposure in the country. The league began in October 2014 with eight teams. During its first three seasons, the competition operated without official recognition from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the governing body for the sport in Asia. The competition was also structured along the same lines as the Indian Premier League, the country's premier Twenty20 cricket competition. Each season lasted just 3 months, from October to December, and matches were held daily. However, prior to the 2017–18 season, the league expanded to ten teams, expanded its schedule to six months, and earned recognition from the AFC.
Unlike other football leagues around the world, the Indian Super League does not use promotion and relegation, choosing to grow through expansion, similar to Major League Soccer in the United States. Indian Super League clubs are able to gain qualification into Asian continental club competitions, such as the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup.
Since the league's inaugural season, a total of three clubs have won the ISL Final and one club has won the ISL League Winners Shield, the trophy awarded to the top team at the end of the league stage. The current champion is ATK, they have won the trophy 3 times now and the current League Winners Shield trophy holder is FC Goa, who have won it once since the trophy was unveiled during the 2019–20 season. The league is expected to grow more after the recent road map provided by the AFC and the AIFF, which stated entry of new teams and starting of relegation and promotion.
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, beginning in 1888. 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. Prior to the creation of the National Football League, most clubs played in state leagues or select nationwide tournaments.
In 2006, the All India Football Federation, the governing body for the sport in India, reformatted the league as the I-League in an effort to professionalize the game. However, during the following seasons, the league suffered from a lack of popularity due to poor marketing.
In September 2006, 22 December, the AIFF signed a 10-year television and media contract with Zee Sports. The deal would see Zee broadcast the National Football League, the I-League, and other tournaments organized by the AIFF and select India international matches. However, in October 2010, the deal between the AIFF and Zee Sports was terminated early after differences between both parties related to payment and how to grow the game in India.
The Indian Super League was officially launched on 21 October 2013 by IMG–Reliance, Star Sports, and the All India Football Federation. The competition was announced to take place from January 2014 to March 2014, but was postponed shortly thereafter to September 2014.
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 consortium. However, due to the rescheduling of the league, the bidding was moved to 3 March 2014. 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. Finally, in early April 2014, the winning bidders were announced. The selected cities/state were Bangalore, Delhi, Goa, Guwahati, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Pune. 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. 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.
The first team to be launched officially was the Kolkata franchise as Atlético de Kolkata on 7 May 2014. On 7 July 2014, the team announced the first head coach in league history, Antonio López Habas. The next day, Kolkata also announced the first official marquee signing in the Indian Super League, UEFA Champions League winner Luis García.
Eventually, all eight teams were revealed as Atlético de Kolkata, Bangalore Titans, Delhi Dynamos, Goa, Kerala Blasters, Mumbai City, NorthEast United and Pune City. However, on 21 August 2014, it was announced that due to Bangalore's owners dropping out, Chennai would be given a franchise instead. The team was eventually named Chennaiyin FC. At the same time, the original marquee players were Luis García, Elano, Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires, David James, Freddie Ljungberg, Joan Capdevila, and David Trezeguet.
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. The first Indian to score in the league was Balwant Singh for Chennaiyin FC. 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.
Recognition and expansion
For the first three seasons of the Indian Super League, the competition operated without official recognition from the governing body for football in Asia, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and FIFA, the world governing body. 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. With no recognition from the AFC, the competition also couldn't participate in Asian club competitions, the AFC Champions League or AFC Cup.
During the first three seasons of the Indian Super League, attendances across the competition had exceeded the expectations of pundits and of the domestic I-League mainly due to the timings at which the matches took place especially on working days and needs no mention sheer promotion.[failed verification] Television ratings were also strong for the competition, which is expected after better commentary, better telecasting, pre-match and post-match shows, as well as hourly reminders in various channels and social media interaction. However, despite the general success off the pitch, the competition 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. 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. India head coach Stephen Constantine had called for both the ISL and I-League to either run together at the same time or merge.
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 competition would also expand by two teams and continue to operate without promotion and relegation, as stated earlier due to the 15 crore attraction of the FSDL each year, but run for 5–7 months instead of 2–3. The idea was not entertained by the I-League representatives.
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. 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. 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. 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 which was a true knockout cup competition It was also stated that the competition would now run for five months starting with the 2017–18 season and the competition would expand to 10 teams.
A month before, on 11 May 2017, the ISL organizers started to accept bids for 2–3 new franchises for the 2017–18 season. The bids would be for ten cities, namely Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Cuttack, Durgapur, Hyderabad, Jamshedpur, Kolkata, Ranchi, Siliguri and Thiruvanathapuram. 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. 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.
On 22 September 2017, the competition announced officially that it would be expanding its season by two months, thus making the league last for five months instead of three. The competition would also go from having matches played daily to being played between Wednesday and Sunday.
The next year, prior to the 2018–19 season, it was reported that Reliance Industries had bought out IMG's shares in the league. IMG realising that the robust business model will soon be exposed, pulled out, thus giving Reliance Industries 65% ownership of the league while Star Sports retains 35%.
The Indian Super League season runs from October to March (since the 2017–18 season). The season consists of both the league stage, which lasts until late February or early March, and the finals, which take place in March. The league stage follows a double round-robin format, with each club playing the others twice, once at their home stadium and once at their opponents' stadium, for a total of 18 matches each. Teams receive three points for a win, one point for a draw, and no points for a loss. Teams are ranked by total points, with the highest-ranked club at the end of the league stage being awarded the ISL League Winners Shield (introduced during 2019–20 season) and the top four ranked teams progressing to the finals.
The Indian Super League finals have remained unchanged since the league's inaugural season. They consist of just two rounds, starting with the semi-finals before concluding with the ISL Final. The semi-finals are played in a two-legged format, with both sides playing the other in their home venues. At the conclusion of both matches, the team leading on aggregate moves on to the final. If the scores are tied on aggregate, then the away goal rule would apply (introduced during the 2017–18 season). The final is a one-off match that is held at a neutral ground, with the winner bring crowned champions.
Indian Super League teams can qualify for the top Asian club competitions – the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup – through their performance in the league. Prior to the 2017–18 season, the league was not recognized officially by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the governing body for football in Asia, so for the first three seasons no ISL team was eligible to participate in Asian competition. However, in June 2017, it was announced that the AFC, along with FIFA, would recognize the Indian Super League and allow clubs to participate in the AFC Cup starting in 2019.
Bengaluru became the first Indian Super League club to play in Asian competition when they participated in the 2018 AFC Cup. The club qualified while still an I-League club and through winning the Federation Cup in 2017 but participated in the tournament as an ISL team after entering the league prior to the 2017–18 season. In March 2018, Chennaiyin became the first ISL side to qualify for the AFC Cup directly through the league. They qualified for the 2019 edition after winning the 2018 ISL final.
In October 2019, it was announced that the AFC had approved the proposed roadmap from the All India Football Federation, which includes allowing the Indian Super League champion to qualify for the AFC Champions League qualifiers. A couple months later, in December 2019, it was officially announced by the AFC that they would be expanding the Champions League group stage from 32 teams to 40 and that the Indian Super League league stage winners shall qualify directly for the group stage from the 2021 edition onwards. The winner of the Indian Super League Final will continue to qualify for the AFC Cup qualifiers. In February 2020, Goa became the first ISL club to qualify for the Champions League after they won the League Winners Shield as the top ranked side after the league stage.
In February 2018 it was announced by the All India Football Federation that the Super Cup would be replacing the Federation Cup as Indian football's annual knockout football competition. Prior to the Super Cup, Indian Super League clubs did not play official matches outside of ISL (exception being Bengaluru in the 2018 AFC Cup) so the Super Cup was the first time clubs in the league played in an official cup tournament. The Super Cup is contested by all ten sides in the ISL and the top 10 sides from the I-League, the other top flight league in India. The top six teams from both leagues qualify automatically for the tournament proper while the bottom four participate in qualifiers.
The Indian Super League is currently contested by 11 clubs – six of whom competed in the inaugural season. Bengaluru and East Bengal predated the ISL, having been part of the I-League prior to joining the league. A total of 13 clubs have competed at some point in the league's short history. Unlike most football leagues from across the world, there is no promotion and relegation system in the ISL. Instead, the league chooses to grow through expansion to bring in new clubs, similarly to Major League Soccer in the United States and the A-League in Australia.
The Indian Super League expanded for the first time prior to the 2017–18 season, adding both Bengaluru and Jamshedpur. ATK and Pune City are the only clubs to have formerly competed in the league. Pune City were disbanded in August 2019. The club's franchise rights were transferred to new owners who founded Hyderabad for the 2019–20 season. Principal owners of ATK RPSG Group merged ATK with the football department of Mohun Bagan and formed ATK Mohun Bagan in July 2020. Only one club has relocated away from where they were founded: Odisha were relocated to Bhubaneswar from the Indian capital Delhi prior to the 2019–20 season. In September 2020, the Indian Super League expanded to 11 clubs, adding East Bengal prior to the 2020–21 season.
The following 11 clubs will compete in the Indian Super League during the 2020–21 season:
|Club||Location||Stadium||Capacity||Joined||Last season||Last Head coach||Last Captain(s)||Top Goal Scorer (Goals)||Fate|
|ATK||Kolkata, West Bengal||Salt Lake Stadium||65,000||2014||2019-20||Antonio López Habas||Roy Krishna, Pritam Kotal||Iain Hume (18 Goals)||Merged with Mohun Bagan to form ATK Mohun Bagan|
|Pune City||Pune, Maharashtra||Balewadi Stadium||9,100||2014||2018-19||Phil Brown||Emiliano Alfaro, Kamaljit Singh||Marcelinho Leite Pereira (14 Goals)||Dissolved (Franchise rights transferred to Hyderabad)|
|Delhi Dynamos||Delhi, NCR||Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium||60,254||2014||2018-19||Josep Gombau||Marcos Tebar||Kalu Uche (13 Goals)||Rebranded to Odisha|
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. The Indian Super League owners act as the competition's "League Partners". British professional services group, Ernst & Young, were hired to draw up a criterion for the team bidding process and they were required to approve the potential owners. 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. Football clubs such as Atlético Madrid and Shillong Lajong were also bid winners.
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 competition after the competition rejected their potential tie-up with then I-League club Bengaluru FC. 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.
The competition 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 brought in businessman Nimmagadda Prasad and film stars Allu Aravind, Chiranjeevi, and Akkineni Nagarjuna after PVP Ventures withdrew their stake in the team.
Since the competition 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. 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.
For the 2016 season, two new stadiums were used in the competition, 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. ATK moved to the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium after the Salt Lake Stadium was being renovated for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
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 competition. Bengaluru would host matches at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium while Jamshedpur would play at the JRD Tata Sports Complex.
Sponsorship and revenues
In 2014, Hero MotoCorp became the first title sponsor of the Indian Super League in a deal that would last through 2016. On 30 September 2014, a week before the first season, it was announced that Puma SE would be the official ball supplier of the Indian Super League. Nivia became the official match ball sponsor for the session 2018–19 and supplied FIFA pro certified Nivia Ashtang to be played through ten clubs.
The competition relies heavily on a central sponsorship pool. League stakeholders, Star Sports and IMG–Reliance, manage the central sponsorship pool and market the competition to potential investors and sponsors. Twenty percent of the money gained in the central sponsorship pool goes towards organizing the competition 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 competition to improve infrastructure and facilities, which meant that the teams lost money during the first season. The next season saw a change, however, with the central sponsorship pool doubling to around 100 crore due to new competition–wide sponsorships with corporates such as Flipkart and DHL Express. Teams were also able to increase their intake in sponsorship in 2015 with shirt sponsorship deals worth double from the previous season and around nine advertisements allowed on team kits. Teams in the league had also signed shirt manufacturing sponsorship deals with companies such as Adidas and Puma.
For the 2016 season, it was projected that the competition would gain more sponsors compared to the previous season, especially since the competition would occur during the Indian festive periods. For kit sponsorships, each team is allowed to have six sponsorships on the kit, with teams like ATK regularly filling those spots.
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. The company would spend $25 million on the competition during those three years according to Nita Ambani, the league's chairperson.
The Indian Super League trophy was unveiled on 5 October 2014, by Nita Ambani, the founder and chairperson of Football Sports Development. 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".
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.
Television ratings and impressions in initial seasons
Star Sports, one of the organizers of the Indian Super League, also serves as the official broadcasters of the league in India. 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 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. 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 20–30 times more than what the I-League, India's other top-tier football league, drew on TEN Action and even the Premier League. 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. 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.
The league experienced a sharp growth in ratings after the 2016 season with over 216 million viewers on television throughout. 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. Ratings in rural India meanwhile drew 101 million viewers.
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, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and other languages through various channels. The league was also streamed online via Hotstar, Star Sports' online streaming service.
Broadcasters and streaming partners
|Territory||Broadcast & Live streaming Partners|
|India||Star Sports, Disney+ Hotstar, Jio TV|
|USA & Canada||ESPN+|
|Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Macau||1Play Sports
(Facebook & YouTube Channel)
|Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland and Faroe Islands, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino and Vatican City, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.||Yupp TV|
|Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Cook Islands, Vanuatu, American Samoa, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Niue, Tokelau, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Tonga, Nauru||Digicel PNG (TVWAN Action)|
|Middle East||Asianet Plus, Jalsha Movies SD|
|Bangladesh||Jalsha Movies SD, Jalsha Movies HD|
|Maldives||Jalsha Movies HD|
Rangers Football Club’s Facebook page
|Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Kosovo||SportKlub|
At of the end of the 2019–20 season, 11 different clubs have competed in the league, with three having won the Indian Super League final, and one winning the League Winners Shield.
|Year||Champions||Final Score||Runners-up||League Winners
|2014||Atlético de Kolkata||1–0||Kerala Blasters||Did not exist||Elano (Chennaiyin)||8|
|2015||Chennaiyin||3–2||Goa||Stiven Mendoza (Chennaiyin)||13|
|2016||Atlético de Kolkata||1–1 (4–3)||Kerala Blasters||Marcelinho (Delhi Dynamos)||10|
|2019–20||ATK||3–1||Chennaiyin||Goa|| Nerijus Valskis (Chennaiyin)
Roy Krishna (ATK)
Bartholomew Ogbeche (Kerala Blasters)
League championships by team
|ATK||3||2014, 2016, 2020||_||—||3||6|
Statistics below are for all-time leaders. Bold denotes players still playing in the Indian Super League.
- As of 23 January 2021
At the conclusion of each season, the league presents the following awards:
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