The closure of both Mahindra United and JCT, within a span of 14 months is the end of an era in Indian football which for decades was sustained by teams financed by corporate entities. In a changing global business environment, these business houses have gradually opted out of football.
Mahindra United was the fifth top Mumbai club to close down. Earlier Century Rayon (1982-83), popular Mafatlal SC (1985), Tata’s SC (1987) and Orkay Mills (1995) terminated their teams.
In 2006, Fransa (Goa) shut shop. This malaise is spreading to the public sector also.
It is heard that ONGC, stung by their relegation to the ILeague, 2nd division are not offering contracts to their players for the next season.
ITI Bangalore, Federation Cup champions in 1977 closed down a decade ago.
Spiraling costs, limited media exposure and fan following are the real reasons for Mahindra United and JCT’s teams being disbanded. About six years ago, a top-rung football outfit in India could be maintained by spending about Rs. 3 crores.
The annual expenditure is now about Rs. 10 crores and returns are diminishing.
JCT’s annual football budget was about `2 crores, insufficient to sustain an I-League team at present. As quality Indian players are limited, their fees escalate, increasing the financial burden on clubs.
Also high calibre foreign players, essential for success, like Odafe, Beto, Tolgay Ozbey and Ranti Martins cost about `1-1.5 crore per season.
National coach Armando Colaco’s wise suggestion on imposing a salary cap in t Indian football, similar to the one used in Major League Soccer (MLS) in USA has been unfortunately rejected t by the players. The All India Football Federation and clubs have also not reacted.
Thus, most of the Indian club’s budget is spent on player’s salaries and little is done to develop a fan base or t improve infrastructure.
Earlier, corporate entities and public sector units sustained football clubs, primarily for publicity and good will. In the 1970s JCT became a household brand name because of Inder Singh and their successful football team. In those days, top clubs played before packed stadiums in the Durand, Rovers Cup, IFA Shield and Federation Cup tournaments. Average attendance was in the range of 20-25,000 with extensive print media coverage.
Crowd support has tumbled rapidly. AIFF figures show that the average crowd in ILeague 4, spread over six months was a mere 3,139.
This figure was also reached primarily because of the 80,000 who witnessed both the derby matches in Kolkata. Unlike in the past, only Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Pune FC and newly promoted Shillong Lajong FC have numerous supporters in their homer matches.
JCT’s decision to play their I-League home matches in Ludhiana, a commercial city, misfired, as they could not develop a fan base. For many years JCT was also given a raw deal by the host broadcasters as their home matches were rarely telecast, diminishing their existing fan base in Delhi.
Indian football clubs have to become commercially viable or perish.
This article was also used in The Asian Age