IMG Worldwide, Reliance Industries and Star India have teamed up to launch the Indian Super League, a new soccer league designed to popularise the game in one of the world's most populous countries.
Much-anticipated, the formal announcement of the league was made in an IMG statement on Monday after being widely reported across India earlier in the day. Eight city-specific teams will compete in the first season, which will begin on 18th January 2014 and conclude in March. A second competition has already been pencilled in for later in 2014.
The IMG-Reliance Indian joint venture, created in March 2010, has been supplemented by Star India for the Super League project.
Star India, the country’s biggest TV network, will hold the broadcast and sponsorship rights for a tournament which IMG said had the ultimate aim of offering Indian soccer 'greater global exposure and eventually help India qualify for the 2026 World Cup'.
Reports earlier on Monday suggested Star India has agreed to pay RS2,000 crore, or some US$324.7 million, for a one-third stake in the Indian Super League, plus the commercial rights for ten years. IMG's statement did not, however, confirm those figures.
“Football, with its largely untapped potential in the country, has the opportunity to grow to an unrivalled commercial success quite unlike any other sport," said Nita Ambani, the chairperson of IMG-Reliance and wife of Reliance chairman Mukesh. "We hope the growing football footprint will pave the way for the nation’s sporting renaissance."
The catalyst for the ambitious project came in December 2010 when IMG-Reliance agreed a 15-year, US$155 million deal with the All India Football Federation to 'radically restructure, overhaul, improve, popularise and promote' soccer in India. Plans for an Indian Super League have been in the works ever since.
Mike Dolan, the chairman and chief executive of IMG, said: “The Indian Super League will feature international football stars combined with good football facilities, rivalry between India’s biggest cities and the roar of a billion passionate fans.
“It envisions creating new football powerhouses in this part of the world, which will rise to global prominence as the country and the sport further develop."
According to reports in India, the Indian Super League will not include any players contracted to clubs in the I-League, India's existing top-flight division, which was founded in 2007. However, international stars said to include Dwight Yorke, Robert Pires and Hernan Crespo have agreed to take part in the Super League, while former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and former France international Marcel Desailly have been slated as team managers.