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‘Eight years too short to develop loyalty between fans and clubs in ISL’

Many years ago, Jose Antonio Cachaza used to go to Atletico Madrid’s matches in Spain with his little son. And that’s how the beautiful game became a crucial part of their lives.

“I remember the day Fernando Torres retired. In his speech to fans, he said he became an Atletico fan because he used to go with this grandfather to the stadium,” said Cachaza, the Managing Director of LaLiga India, in a chat with The Hindu here on Wednesday.

“And that’s a part of our relationship with our local club and basically you know that from September to June, every other Sunday or Saturday now, you go to the stadium. Always. That has been my case too, I have to go to the Atletico stadium with my son, now my son goes there with whoever he wants.

“That father and son relationship is quite basic in the relationship of fans and clubs.”

The Indian Super League has completed eight editions and Cachaza feels it will take longer to build such a loyalty.

“In eight years it’s very difficult to develop that loyalty in India. Why do you have that loyalty in Kolkata, that’s because those guys have been going to see Mohun Bagan or East Bengal matches since they were kids,” said Cachaza who was in Kochi to celebrate the Spanish premier league La Liga’s ‘five years in India’ since the opening of its India office. Incidentally, Kerala is the largest contributing market to LaLiga viewership (23%) on Viacom18 in India.

“In Kerala, Kerala Blasters is a new team but the relationship with football comes from far so it’s a different situation. So, you need to develop these loyalties.

“The ISL is in an early stage and I think it is going in the right direction. But these things take time. We (LaLiga) are celebrating our 95 th season,” he said.

Intelligent marketing

“If you look back at the ISL’s beginning, the first one or two years, they did a move that, from a sports perspective, did not make much sense. Like bringing those former stars but the marketing was incredibly intelligent because it put Indian football on the world map. I mean, people were thinking ‘Wow Roberto Carlos is playing in India’, they were not thinking he cannot play.

“Now, the ISL is evolving into what seems to be a real league. May be, it doesn’t help that most of the matches are played on weekdays when it is not easy for fans to go to stadium. May be, you should look how to get closer to the fans which, may not be in necessary in Kerala but in other States.”

Closer to action

He also feels football action needs to get closer to fans.

“Many clubs are playing in cricket stadiums, they are not the best for watching good football. You’re too far away from the touch line. For example, here in Kochi, the Nehru Stadium is not the worst but I remember in Delhi, it was stressful to watch football, you almost need binoculars to see the game,” said the Spaniard.

“So, improvement in stadia is probably something that India will have to take care of soon. I think a good example is the evolution of MLS in the US. They started playing in large NFL stadia and as soon as the league kept evolving and the finances got right, they started building smaller stadiums of 15,000, 20,000 and 25,000 and they were football-only stadiums.

“I don’t think any ISL club is playing in a football-only stadium. A football-only stadium will bring fans closer to the game and the relationship with players will be even closer. I think that will be a good step forward.”

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