ISL 2018: "League format better in the long run, but knockouts more commercially viable," says Mumbai City FC CEO Indranil Das Blah
After a scintillating finish to the ISL final on Saturday, Mumbai City FC CEO Indranil Das Blah believes although the mega football tournament has attracted a lot of eyeballs with its round-robin plus knockout format, a normal league format would be more beneficial for Indian football in the future.
Late on Saturday night, controversy over the format of the ISL erupted, when Bengaluru's star keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu commented that the Blues were the real champions of the competitions, as they had finished top of the league stage.
"It was an unexpected result for us. I want to say thank you to the fans. I also want to congratulate Chennaiyin for the win, but I believe we won the league. We are the champions," said Gurpreet.
However, Das Blah believes that there's no point in complaining about the format, as all teams had agreed to it, before joining the league.
"When the owners of the clubs decided on the format of the ISL, the idea was clear. It will have a league stage, and then the top four will qualify for the knockouts or the semifinals. so it's not like the goalposts were changed half-way through," the Mumbai City FC CEOsaid to Sportskeeda.
He went on to state that the current format of the ISL is a commercially viable model in India, which is why it is currently bringing in the results.
"Yes, ideally, we would all like to see a league format. But the fact of the matter is that India is not a mature market yet, and all the leagues, you look at kabaddi or hockey or badminton, it's all the same," he said.
"I'm not saying its correct, but if that's the case, you might as well not crib about it and play within the system."
Another side of the whole argument is that the I-League, which is played in the league format, has had one of its most exciting season finales, where four teams were in contention for the title till the last day.
However, the league still got much lower viewership than the ISL final, which is why Blah believes that the current format of the ISL is initially required to garner more fans.
"Look at the I-League for example. It had the most exciting season ever, with four teams fighting for the league on the last day. But, apart from the purists, it was still a very small audience," he said.
"But you look at the ISL final, it was a much larger occasion. Yes, it was a function of marketing fair, media and everything else, but the fact is that unfortunately, the IPL format works, and I can't blame the AIFF or the commercial partners," he continued.
"If you look at IMG or Star's point of view, a lot of people are coming for the razmataz - the Ranbeer Kapoors, or the Sourav Gangulys. Penalties make sense because that makes sense for someone who just about dabbles football. So the best way forward commercially is to go the IPL way," said Blah.
With the ISL and the I-League merger on the cards next season, the pool of teams in the IMG-Reliance-run tournament is likely to get bigger. However, a wholely league format seems like a far-fetched idea as of now, if the success of the ISL final is to be taken into consideration.
However, the introduction of the Super Cup might just fast-track the push for a wholesome league system.