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I-League set for major overhaul

New Delhi: Concerned over the dwindling popularity of the I-League, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and its marketing partners are jointly planning a complete overhaul of the meet from the next season.

According to sources, the cash-rich league, from the 2012-13 season might turn into a two-tier championship involving 16 teams.

The league could now be played in the Major League Soccer (MLS) fashion where teams are divided into two groups of eastern and western conferences with the top clubs from each zone playing in the second tier to decide the title. The idea of this conference model was first mooted by AIFF’s marketing partners, IMG-Reliance.

Asked whether drastic changes are being brought in the I-League, AIFF general secretary Kushal Das told The Telegraph: “Yes, we have plans to make the league more vibrant and attractive. Our marketing and broadcasting partners have a new proposal which we intend to discuss soon and the two-tier format could be one of them.

“On Tuesday, we are also going to discuss this with the clubs to get their views on how the league could become commercially more vibrant and attractive. It is not going to be easy changing a model which has been in place for many years. It will definitely take a few months before we reach a decision,” Das said.

One of the challenges of this format could be that the Calcutta and Goa teams have be kept in two different groups of eight teams each in the first tier of the league.

Four top teams from each group would qualify for the second phase. Both the phases would be played on the usual home and away basis, sources said.

However, the relegation aspect of the league is to be addressed carefully. The planners have to take utmost caution in identifying the bottom spooners to avoid any complaint from the participating teams.

Apart from giving the league a fresh lease of life with a tighter schedule and a television-friendly packaging, the proposed changes, it is believed, is also driven by AIFF’s plan to cut down the escalating cost that mainly arises out of extensive travels.

The AIFF now spends a whopping Rs. 15 crore for running the meet spread over eight months. Under the new format, the federation feels, some money could be saved for running the U-19 I-League and for the promotion of the premier league.

The federation is also concerned by the moderate crowd response at several venues, including Goa, where three strong local teams have failed to attract enough spectators. While the two Calcutta teams still have a committed fan base, teams from Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Kerala have come a cropper in terms of filling up the stands.