Behind the scenes of launch of ISL season 3

Being a close witness of the Indian Super League I have come to realize that It takes a resilient heart and a determined eye on the big prize to take on a mammoth goal of giving a nation its second sport. Well this task has become a primary vision of India’s largest private company - Reliance Industries, world’s leading sports marketing company – IMG and India’s premier media company -Star India.


I have been fortunate enough to be a wedding planner, with experience of working in celebrity events (IIFA) as well as sports events (IPL, ICC T20 World Cup & ISL). Working on these events has made me realize the commonalities as well as the diversities of requirements, and I would like to believe that experience from such has helped me create a keen acumen for planning and implementation of any event that may come through.

I recently worked as a central member of the Hospitality team in the third edition of Indian Super League. Indian Super League was launched in 2014 with a purpose to build holistic structure for football in the country and a goal for the Indian national team to qualify for the World Cup 2026.

Under the ambit of chairperson and founder of Reliance Foundation and non-executive director of Reliance Industries, Mrs. Nita Mukesh Ambani, the league has grown leaps and bounds since its inception two years ago. Which league in the world, in its second year of existence can boast of being the third highest attended football league in the world, with a reach of close to 220 million? As per the reported data, 57% of the audiences of ISL 2015 were women and kids, close to 165 million people attended the matches at the stadium, and league has seen a massive increase in its followers on social media.

The third season of Indian Super League kicked off on 1st October with a match between NorthEast United FC and Kerala Blasters FC. Prior to the match, the opening ceremony ignited the electrifying kick-off. Thanks to Showtime and their sensitivity and understanding of the deeper vision of ISL, and how each element enhances the experiential value at large, the Opening Ceremony of season 3 was one that saw a lot of grandeur.

I always believe that what leads to magic front of the house is the organized chaos behind the scenes. What stood out from my observation for the Opening Ceremony was the backstage detailing by all involved, personnel from the league as well as Show time. From creating a special structure, paying attention to complete well being of all involved for 100% productivity, to the best food at the stadium, an efficient backstage plan keeping in mind artists, manpower management, holding spaces for technology, secure spots for props and testing for technology, they were able to really bring out the best in everyone. Showtime excelled in displaying their expertise to handle scale, creative content, usage of top notch technology, celebrity presence of the likes of Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Jaqueline Fernandez, neatly merging them with the ceremony requirements and were well supported by Shaimak Davar’s troupe. All this culminated in to a memorable commencement of the tournament.

As we now enter into the progressive phase of the tournament, the following are my takeaways on the opening ceremony and touch points that form a sound foundation for the steady evolution of the ISL as an event, in addition to the sporting aspect of it:

1. Living one Common Goal: Whether it is the internal core team or external agencies coming on board as part of the core ISL team, everyone believes and understands the underlying goal of the tournament. That underlying goal being executing the tournament that befits the highest quality of global standards and that translates into giving a high powered exposure to the game to all involved; internal teams, spectators, players, sponsors and all partners has enabled the brand to move to the next level.

2. Value for the internal team: Each member involved in the Indian Super League is treated with the highest level of respect. The League runs for two months with back-to-back matches and minimal breaks, making it physically and emotionally demanding. The top management takes the time and pays careful attention to knowing and understanding the entire core team with a lot of care. The team members are effectively leaving their home from all over the world to make this event happen, travel and at times, miss important festivals. Each of those sentiments is taken into consideration and the best possible logistical scenarios are created to minimize negative energies while considering cost effectiveness. The team members coming from other countries are given a certain time off even during the tournament so they can go back and visit their families. There is no compromise on where the teams will stay, travel planning is done well in advance with consent of team members and ground transport at each venue is arranged in a very efficient manner for all the cities. Each member of the team is provided with a single room in a 4 or 5 star property, so as to allow them to have “me time” on all days. All this thoughtfulness trickles down from the top leadership and the result is a large happy team with just one agenda, i.e. to put their best foot forth and make each game a flawless one. Such cost efficient yet inclusive arrangements only create lots of positive energy & laughter in each of the 8 cities ISL is held in.

3. Quality Standards & Parameters: Each year marks new ideas, new challenges and hence the need to revisit set templates for every aspect of the organization of the matches. Prep work for the league begins pretty much as soon as the previous season ends, with learning being documented and shared internally, and as well as with clubs. These post event reports are followed by one-on-one meetings with clubs, and internal discussions on plans for marketing, match scheduling and operations for the subsequent season. There is only one focus – ‘Improvement’, while maintaining highest level of quality and standards. There is no room for the word ‘impossible’, and all options for improvement of the league are studied before settling for the best ones. A solution is found for every situation that arises and with experts in teams, free flowing efficient communication and the ‘yes’ mind to make it happen, the league truly turns in to an enthralling experience of learning.

4. Gender Equality: With the first lady of the country, Nita Mrs. Ambani leading the pack herself, there is a strong message going out about the involvement of women in this massive national level sports event from India and the world over. She has established a revolutionary trend in ensuring that women are empowered and are in key decision making and execution roles in the league. The data reports 57% viewers of the league are women and kids, and internally - the league sees women wearing various hats, happily multitasking in order to create a balance that then leads to them delivering their 100% during the duration of the league. Technology certainly acts as an integral catalyst to women being able to juggle. The ability to understand technology well, use apps effectively to ones advantage sorts out the home front and work simultaneously makes it fun and convenient. Gender equality at such large events marks a very trend setting boost to the experiential marketing trade at large.

5. Make in India: When the league began, a lot of foreign officials were involved. The game plan then with mutual consent from all involvement was for them to come and train their Indian counterparts involved with the league. The league now boasts of more than 90% Indian staff, with many of them in key positions and effectively trained to run the league. A befitting example of the world of events enables global collaborations to churn out the best from our own homeland. The ISL is surely working strategically to make this a skill development initiative for us Indians and becoming a brand vehicle for the Make in India initiative.

6. Hospitality: Hospitality is a primary facet of the league, and an integral part of the operations where the stakeholders (owners, sponsors and their respective guests) of the league get together to watch the live sporting event from the stands. Hospitality in ISL is a massive operation where four women, experts are given the responsibility to work and liaise directly with the Operations and Competition team, as well as Mrs. Ambani’s office to bring alive the most impeccable experience for one and all attending the matches. Special Hospitality areas are created for guests of Mrs. & Mr. Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani and team owners, with a luxurious look & feel and a class apart menu crafted sensitively to cater to all requirements of each and every guest. The match day dietary requirements of players and officials are shared with the Hospitality managers, and arrangements are made accordingly. The dietary requirements vary from club and club, and an efficient system is formalized to deliver the requests with utmost diligence. Non-playing players and families of players and officials are taken care of warmly by giving them special allocated seats in hospitality areas. There is an exclusive area created for all sponsors to look after them and make them feel really cared for and important. This aspect of the tournament is a direct result of Mrs. Ambani’s value system and her belief that every guest is her personal one and nothing better than food brings the family together. She emphasizes on this point throughout the league for her ISL family.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the world summit on ethics in sports said - “Sports create connectivity, commitment and a higher context to life. It has this magnetic quality to bring together people from various sections & backgrounds onto one platform and make our world a better place to live in”. I can confidently say that the league is living with a similar awareness and is not only striving to give India its second sport but also giving all involved an inspiring existence to find their source of happiness.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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