The I-League Private Clubs Association met on Monday and even gave out a statement wherein they made it clear that they would approach the court as and when AIFF makes its decision.
Among the many bones of contention, including the alleged step-motherly treatment meted out to the I-League clubs, a major issue the clubs have taken up has been the move to cut down on or end the TV broadcast of the I-League.
The clubs have alleged that AIFF has allowed the broadcasters, Star, who are co-owners of the ISL, to do so in order to reduce the popularity of the I-League. They have also claimed that the I-League enjoys similar viewership numbers to that of the ISL.
In fact, back in December 2018, when it was announced that several I-League matches will not be broadcast on TV, Gokulam Kerala President VP Praveen had said, “Last season, the I-League had a viewership that was close to that of the ISL.
“The I-League is more competitive than any other football league in the country. Only with proper television coverage could you hope any sporting event to grow.”
However, it has emerged that Gokulam themselves were forced to admit that was not the case last season.
Flowers TV, a popular malayalam TV channel owned by the Gokulam group who are the owners of Gokulam Kerala, were awarded an exclusive broadcast rights for the Kerala State territory to live telecast 12 I-League games, including all the 10 home games and two away matches against East Bengal and Mohun Bagan last season.
But the channel pulled out of the deal by the end of November 2018 after telecasting just four games. It was found that there was no interest in the program and the management decided to pull the plug on the deal after failing to bring any brand on board for marketing.
Flowers TV had only 0.01 Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) TV rating for the four games they showed, while I-League for the entire 2018-19 season had 0.02 BARC rating.
When Goal contacted Praveen, he said, “It was a regional channel and we had an agreement where we had to pay a certain amount per match for the broadcast plus transition charges to Football Sports Development Ltd (FSDL). However, it was not monetarily feasible since we had to stop the broadcast by 5 pm. It is not a news channel and there would be primetime malayalam soaps that start by 6pm.
"Since Flowers TV is an entertainment channel and only games we could show were 2pm kick-offs. Showing 7pm games would affect the channel’s TRP ratings and they would falter. It would affect their competition and that they would not agree. Also, they were not getting enough traction for the 2pm games and it was not economical. It would be easier for Star to show the matches since they are a sports channel and not an entertainment channel like Flowers TV.”
It is clear that the TV viewership of the I-League has been dismal and it is highlighted by the the fact that even an in-house TV channel decided to pull out of a broadcast deal. While clamouring for proper coverage of the league, the fact that they could not convince their own channel to do so shows Gokulam in strange poor light.
Or perhaps, the I-League clubs’ demand for complete TV coverage while insisting the viewership has been on par with ISL sounds a bit hollow.