Kolkata, Jan 6 (IANS) A glittering launch ceremony was held at a south Kolkata hotel here on Wednesday to kick-start India’s top-flight football competition, I-League. The first game of the league will be played on January 9 between defending champions Mohun Bagan and newcomers Aizwal FC. Footballers from each of the nine teams, including the two new outfits Aizwal FC and DSK Shivajians, were present at the opening ceremony.
Mohun Bagan captain Shilton Paul came up to the podium holding aloft the trophy and then kept it on a pedestal, signifying that it is up for grabs again. “For all of us last year, it was probably our greatest achievement. We hope to retain the trophy,” Paul said. Shillong Lajong FC midfielder Boithang Haokip said he was looking forward to the north-east derby against Aizwal FC.
“We are very positive, looking forward to the north-east derby against Aizwal,” he said. I-League chief executive officer (CEO) Sunando Dhar said that 65 percent of the matches, this time, will be telecast live and the percentage would go up in the next few years. Dhar said he hoped the new marketing strategies in place for the I-League will draw fans to the stadiums in large numbers.
“This is probably the first time we are trying to promote the league. Last year, except Goa, there was 50 percent increase in a number of spectators and 13 percent in viewership. With two new teams I believe we will have good crowds coming in,” he said. Asked about the promotions, Dhar said: “We are trying to promote the league in regional channels. A bulk of the promotional budget is being spent on buying spots in regional media where the teams are based.” All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary Kushal Das said the federation was trying to enhance the comfort of the spectators coming in. “The packaging, presentation of the ISL (Indian Super League) is much better because of higher investments. But with the budget we have, we are trying to work for spectators comfort which is a necessity,” he said.