The All India Football Federation (AIFF) announced on Saturday that, beginning on December 29, the Star Sports network would broadcast only a select 30 I-League matches including the last three round of matches.
The number of I-League matches to be telecast Live and Exclusive on the Star Sports 3 channel will be brought down 80 from a total 110 games. The AIFF's media release asserted that "the country's top-flight football league were recently informed" of the decision by their broadcast partners.
Interestingly, the words 'were recently informed' were emboldened in their media release, pointing out that they were not in favour of the decision at all but their hands were forced. It certainly cannot be a grammatical mistake because the emboldening is present in the release mail and the full statement attached.
If the Indian FA are claiming that they knew about the decision by their broadcast partners only in the middle of the season, what does that tell you about their working relation? The AIFF has taken a strong stance in the press release, pointing out that it was the sole decision of Star Sports to roll back coverage.
And why would such a key decision be taken in the middle of the season rather than before. If it was taken before the start of the season, why was this communicated only now?
In fact, it is worth noting that the AIFF and their broadcast partners are not in direct communication. All communication is channeled through their commercial partners.
Both the AIFF and their commercial partners, the IMG-Reliance, have since come in for heavy criticism for their alleged attempts to stifle the I-League.
One of the clubs which will be most affected is Gokulam Kerala. The club president VC Praveen has questioned the federation's silence over the matter while the clubs would be left to be answerable to their sponsors.
"Earlier, before the league started, it (number of televised matches to be cut down) was expected. Though, we did speak to AIFF about it but they said 'No, all the matches will be telecasted'. So this has come as a shock for all of us, mainly because we have told our sponsors about the viewership," he told Goal.I-League
Accusing the ill efforts to promote the Indian Super League (ISL), Praveen added, "When I-League is not been telecast, clearly Star Sports is trying to show that ISL is bigger than I-League, which is not. AIFF is almost accepting the fact and are just keeping quiet. I don't know what is the problem."
Ranjit Bajaj, the owner of Minerva Punjab, has been among the most vocal on social media platforms against the treatment meted out at I-League clubs. For instance, according to the released schedule that would have four more games added to it on a later date, the defending champions have only one more game to be broadcast live.
"This is blatantly trying to kill the I-League because they are feeling threatened by its popularity. Imagine Kerala Blasters have gone down to 8,000 and Gokulam Kerala have gone up to 30,000 (fans in the stadium)," he quipped.
Highlighting the kind of impact clubs will have to face, Bajaj pointed out the risk of losing out on sponsors coupled with the burden of already having made payments to third party organisations for services in return.
"What am I supposed to tell my sponsors now? If they ask for their money, how am I supposed to pay them back? What about all the other things I have already done for the season based on the fact that matches would be telecasted?
"I have paid 15,000 dollars (USD) to stats (statistics) recording companies so that they can cover my matches and I get statistics, but that all depends on live telecast. I am not going to get that money back. For us, that's a huge thing. It's like a budget of month already gone," he lambasted.