Cricket and Bollywood are the two magic words that define entertainment in the Indian household. And when they join hands, there is nothing like it.
Football has never been a sport that was really lapped up by the majority of the cricket-loving and the Bollywood-loving folk of our country. Of course, there are the Premier League and La Liga aficionados, as well as Pele and Maradona fans, but extracting the same cheer from them after watching an Indian game was a different story altogether.
I-League – the domestic football league of the country - has grown over the years, with the likes of Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri slowly starting to get their due. But, there wasn't any such inspiration for the entertainment maniacs in India to celebrate the game of football at large.
However, as the saying goes, cometh the hour, cometh the man, and the advent of the Indian Super League in 2014, changed it all.
The inaugural edition of the cash-rich football tournament in India was predicted to find a fate that the National Football League (NFL) found some years back. The NFL was welcomed with huge applause in the later half of the 1990s, but a decade later, clubs started disbanding, and the transition to I-League happened in 2007.
And although the I-League pushed the limits to get better with the passing of every season, the results did not catch the eyes of the common folk, to be honest. Of course, the quality of the Indian players increased with every season, and although the competition between the clubs remained close, the audience never really warmed-up to the I-League.
The effect of the ISL, though, has been massive.
All the eight franchisees in the ISL roped in cricketers and Bollywood stars for the three-month tenure of the tournament just to bring that extra zing to the game of football in India. Obviously, the organisers – IMG-Reliance – did do some research before taking this step, and this helped the Indian Super League become a big success.
From Sachin Tendulkar to Ranbir Kapoor and Sourav Gaunguly to Hrithik Roshan, the marriage of Bollywood/cricket and football brought about a sea change, and the majority of the ISL's success can be owed to the organisers' vision, led by Nita Ambani.
Here are the co-owners of the eight Indian Super League teams:
- Sachin Tendulkar – Kerala Blasters FC
- Sourav Ganguly – Atletico de Kolkata
- Virat Kohli – FC Goa
- MS Dhoni – Chennaiyin FC
- Abhishek Bachchan – Chennaiyin FC
- Ranbir Kapoor – Mumbai City FC
- Hrithik Roshan – FC Pune City
- John Abraham – NorthEast United FC
- Varun Dhawan – FC Goa (Brand ambassador)
The DEN Network-owned Delhi Dynamos FC roped in Bollywood actors Parineeti Chopra and Ayushmaan Khurana in the first season of the ISL, with former marquee player Alessandro del Piero acting as the main face of the franchisee side. This season, Brazil legend Roberto Carlos replaces the Italian legend as the face of the side.
Hrithik Roshan also replaced superstar Salman Khan as the co-owner of Pune City last year, and he has since stayed a major face of the franchise.
Some of the cricketers and the Bollywood stars also became a part of a promo video titled 'Banter & Battle', which celebrates the competitive spirit of the league.
The much-anticipated second season of the Indian Super League kicks off in less than two weeks at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on 3 October. Champions Atletico de Kolkata go head-to-head against hosts Chennaiyin FC in the inaugural game.