The average stadium attendance for I-League 2015-16 has witnessed a sharp rise compared to the previous season, belying fears that the ISL would undermine the importance of All India Football Federation's flagship tournament.
The figures are positive as the conclusion of the current season is still a long way to go. It has already recorded an average attendance of 8296 while the entire last season's average attendance was 5909.
Matches featuring defending champion Mohun Bagan in Kolkata saw an average in-stadia turnout of 22370 till the ninth week of the league, a rise of over 5000 from the entire 2014-15 season. Arch rival East Bengal has already witnessed an average attendance of 10284 to the 13142 the last time around.
Games involving other teams across other centers have also improved as far the turnout is concerned.
Winner in their inaugural season in 2013-14, Bengaluru FC has already attracted 12197 fans to its home stadium. Last time, the overall count was 8734.
The Goans teams - Dempo FC, Salgaocar FC and Sporting Clube de Goa - have also improved vastly in terms of attendance, though concerns had been raised about the absence of enough heads dotting the stands this season.
In the northeast, Shillong Lajong FC have fared better then last season, while league debutant Aizawl FC (6317), on expected lines, is headed in the right direction considering the popularity it enjoys in that region.
The AIFF said it has done things a bit differently this season, bringing in innovations in marketing the league.
I-League CEO Sunanda Dhar said: "We focused primarily on marketing the I-League with utmost professionalism and all the nine clubs along with AIFF joined hands to run the process smoothly. The first step in the marketing initiative was the I-League launch ceremony with all the nine captains in Kolkata on 6th January which was first of its kind. We have tied up with one renowned agency to manage our social media pages, which are the most eminent tool to reach out to more people nowadays."
He added, "Besides, syndicated columns in frontline dailies have attracted more eyeballs during the Hero I-League matches this season. We have bought commercial times in various regional channels to tap in the local crowd who'll cheer their heart out for their home team. We would like to believe that all these efforts have played a significant role to boost the already-existing support base of the I-League clubs."
Dhar is also optimistic about initiatives undertaken by the Goan clubs.
"In-stadia attendance for both the Goan outfits has risen by many folds from the last season. Sporting Clube de Goa and Salgaocar FC have tied up with local FM channels who air the match day information, run contests to spiral the fan base. Merchandising is another aspect where both teams have focused to churn the support base.