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The chairman of the Dempo Group expressed his displeasure over the state of affairs Indian football finds itself in...

The first verse in the Isopanishad states, “Everything animate or inanimate within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things knowing well to whom they belong.”

Going by this one may think it will be the end of all capitalism or even communism and we may have a world wherein everyone has to same amount of money in their pocket. However that cannot be as the ‘his quota’ is a relative term. While a 2BHK would be comfortable for those of the middle class, it may not necessarily hold true for the elite.

However that being said, one does get the impression that at times, ‘money must be funny in a rich man’s world’ as Abba famously sang in the late 70’s.

Similar is the case of the I-League. Why would an owner want to inject more and more money at a time when there is no hope for the clubs to gain any financial rewards in return? Add to that the budgets only have to go up if they have to be competitive in a league which doesn’t have a title sponsor or even a trophy for that matter!

In case, you just disregard them as being uninterested in where the money is flowing (read: going down the drain), think otherwise as Shrinivas Dempo, the chairman of the Dempo group and owner of the most successful side in the I-League era, puts his thoughts across with logical rationale.

“You have hit the right points. Dempo was started by our family as a passion, as a goodwill gesture with the community back then when the budgets were small. We have had a very successful run thereafter however the ‘not so good news’ was that budgets had to be increased by 10 –to-15% each year.

“What concerns us is that there has been no systematic and concerted efforts to make the I-League profitable. It’s time for introspection as to how do we continue with it,” said a concerned Dempo.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) launched the I-League, a so-called reformed version of the National Football League (NFL) in 2007 however that hasn’t changed much for the clubs. The commercial and marketing rights were sold to IMG-Reliance back in 2010 however since then there hasn’t been much activity on that front given that there has been a serious lack of communication with the clubs.

Will The I-League Be A Profitable Venture?

It has left the ‘stakeholders’ of the I-League in dire straits given that there is no roadmap or vision as to what the future holds. And by the rule of thumb, investment is only done when there is a plan, which in the case of the I-League has been forever missing for whatever reasons.

“It is not a rocket science, to be honest. World over there are models making these leagues work. It is just that we are not making an effort and that’s the challenge. We were hopeful when someone like IMG will assist somebody like the AIFF. However we see no light at the end of the tunnel. It brings forth a challenge for the clubs as to how do we run in the future?” questioned the Masters in Commerce post-graduate from Mumbai’s Sydenham College.

Desperate times call for desperate measures which is what the clubs had to resort when they sent an SOS to the AIFF and IMG-Reliance to put forth their opinions wherein the authorities didn’t have anything concrete to offer except for a week’s time to come up with a timeline. Thereafter, they spoke of another two months period to come up with a plan which leaves one to wonder as to what had transpired until then since the deal was signed more than 15 months ago.

“We had to push to talk since we are bleeding. Ideally we would have never bothered but nobody from the AIFF or IMG-Reliance had asked the clubs about their financial health. There has been workshop along this line at the owner level. At the manager level, some points might have been touched but none at our level. Maybe they were planning something but we expect things to move much quicker,” said the conglomerate with a combined turnover of a US $153 Million.

What Does The AFC Club Licensing Criterion Suggest?

Interestingly the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) club licensing criterion calls for the I-League to be a separate legal entity which is to be run by the stakeholders, i.e., the I-League clubs and not the AIFF Executive Committee. Mr.Dempo highlighted that it’s about time that the country’s top division league be run professionally as the norms demand.

“The I-League has to be restructured. The owners are the stakeholders. The AIFF controls it as a division giving the clubs some travel allowance. We are willing to give up on these perks in favour of the large scheme of things.

“We need a revenue model. Today wherever we go people are interested in football but there is an absence of a revenue model. Where is the investment on marketing,” asked Mr.Dempo which once again puts IMG-Reliance, the marketing partners of the AIFF, in the spotlight.

“I must thank the press of this country for their coverage of the league. We need a marketing plan along with television rights,” he added.

Money Must Be Spent Judiciously

Coming back to where we started as to why a millionaire would want to invest in the I-League, one of the reasons could be Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) undertaken by various private entities. However one may indulge in CSR too if it helps develop something or there is a progression involved. It just can’t be static wherein the corporate keep putting in cash each year but in the end there is no real benefit as the standard of Indian football continues to remain the same, though the FIFA president Sepp Blatter may think otherwise.

“I have time and again mentioned of the need for a salary cap. We are not underpaying any player but the level of football we get to see is not keeping pace with the kind of investment we make. This leaves the clubs dejected and wonder as to ‘where are we heading?’ CSR is fine but it must be sustainable model and not just burning cash.”

Point taken, Mr.Dempo. It does pinch when you see money not being channelized in the manner it should be, irrespective of whether you are a pauper or a millionaire which is something the AIFF and IMG-Reliance need to notice.

The ‘his quota’ once again comes into the picture as afterall, it's a 'relative' world.

Let us know what you make of Mr.Shrinivas Dempo's views by leaving a comment below.

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