Olympics Begin In
Begin typing your search above and press return to search.


What's causing the decline of fan attendance in ISL?

The decline in football attendance in India reflects broader challenges, including infrastructure deficiencies, below-par quality and the rise of short-format leagues.

Whats causing the decline of fan attendance in ISL?

League match of Bengaluru FC at the Kanteerava stadium 


Aswathy Santhosh

Updated: 22 April 2024 12:40 PM GMT

"It is always a delight to play in Kochi, as we are not accustomed to playing in India with such large crowds," expressed Spanish coach Manolo Marquez following his team's loss to Kerala Blasters in Kochi.

FC Goa have seen a decrease in attendance over the years, which could be attributed to the team's struggles.

"We are thrilled with our fans and the support from the people who attend our matches. However, even when our team was performing well, the stadium was not filled to capacity. It is disappointing," Marquez added.

The Fatorda stadium in Goa recorded an average attendance of 8400 last season. This issue is not exclusive to FC Goa but is a common trend among many clubs in the league, including clubs like Mohun Bagan, Kerala Blasters, and East Bengal which have huge fan bases.

The highest league attendance average came in the second season, which was 27k. After that, there has been a gradual decline to 21k in the 2016 season, followed by a sudden drop to 15,000, and in the ongoing season, it has plummeted to 11k, with Hyderabad FC having the lowest attendance of 380.

Infrastructure and scheduling

One of the primary challenges contributing to the decline in attendance at football league games in India is the inadequate infrastructure and facilities. Football in India often struggles to secure adequate facilities. Many stadiums are outdated, poorly maintained, and lack basic amenities, like providing clean water, toilets and food, deterring fans from attending matches.

Moreover, the scheduling of matches poses a challenge for football fans. Unlike other countries where matches are scheduled on weekends, Indian football league games are frequently held on weekdays. This makes it difficult for working professionals and students to attend matches, further contributing to the decline in attendance.

Transportation is another hurdle the home-bound fans often face, with no local transport available in most places to ferry the fans.

Lack of marketing and promotion

Football leagues in India often face challenges in marketing and promotion compared to cricket. While cricket enjoys extensive promotion and advertising, football often takes a backseat in the Indian sports landscape. Limited marketing efforts result in low awareness about football matches and leagues, ultimately leading to poor attendance at stadiums. Without effective promotion, potential fans may remain unaware of matches, reducing the likelihood of attendance.

ISL in its initial years promoted the league extensively, but over the years the marketing died down. Once Star Sports stopped telecasting the league, the promotions also reduced massively. Over the years promotions and TV promos in local languages shrank to a few prominent football hotbeds. On the other hand, I-league does not even exist in the outside world. No promotions, not even a proper telecast is available for I-League matches.

The dominance of cricket in India overshadows other sports, including football. Cricket is deeply ingrained in Indian culture, with a massive fan following and extensive media coverage. This dominance makes it challenging for football to compete for attention and resources. The overwhelming presence of cricket in the Indian sports scene means that football struggles to attract fans to stadiums, further contributing to low attendance figures.

Quality of football

The quality of football on display in the Indian leagues is also a concern. Despite efforts to improve standards, there is still a significant gap compared to top footballing nations. The lack of competitiveness and entertainment value in some matches compared to the European leagues deter fans from attending games. Without compelling matches and high-quality football, fans are likely to lose interest in the game, eventually discouraging them from attending stadiums and impacting attendance numbers. Lack of proper and good refereeing also takes away the interest of fans.

Football leagues in India often span several months, leading to viewer fatigue as the season progresses. Unlike shorter tournaments or leagues in other sports, the prolonged duration of football leagues can result in decreased interest and engagement from fans. As the season progresses, some fans may lose interest or become disengaged from the competition, leading to lower attendance at matches.

Rise of short-format leagues

The short-format entertainment leagues, such as the Indian Premier League (IPL) in cricket and the Pro Kabaddi League, have captured the attention of Indian audiences. These leagues offer condensed, high-energy entertainment that resonates with modern audiences. In contrast, traditional football leagues may struggle to maintain the same level of excitement and engagement over a prolonged period. The slower pace of the game and the length of the season may not appeal to audiences seeking quick thrills and instant excitement.

Short-format leagues are often perceived as more glamorous and entertaining, drawing attention away from traditional football leagues. Extensive marketing and celebrity endorsements further cement their popularity among Indian audiences. The success of short-format entertainment leagues highlights the changing preferences of Indian audiences and their appetite for dynamic, fast-paced sports entertainment.

Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts at various levels. Clubs must prioritise community engagement initiatives to build stronger connections with local fans, fostering a sense of belonging and loyalty. Additionally, investments in infrastructure, grassroots development, and player recruitment are essential for bridging the gap between Indian and European football standards.

Leveraging digital platforms and social media to enhance fan engagement and storytelling can also play a crucial role in connecting with audiences and building excitement around football in India."The decline in football attendance in India reflects broader challenges, including infrastructure deficiencies and the rise of short-format leagues.

Next Story