Image Credits: FFL
FFL was founded by two non-sport corporate workers – Shree Harsha and Sriram Chitlur in 2017. Initially, comprised of people from all over the Bengaluru and from the age of 16 to 21, they started to form teams that eventually led to the conception of a 5-a-side tournament dubbed the Football Fives League (FFL), which has now grown into a franchise based 10-team competition.
“More than playing sports, I have loved the business of sports, said Shree Harsha, the FFL founder in an interview with Fisto Sports. Initially, the two (Shree Harsha and Sriram Chitlur) started with one small amateur event in Bengaluru on a big scale. After that, they realised that the space of amateur sports is not just in Bengaluru and it can go PAN India too. In the next two-and-half-years, they were on the roads travelling to eight different cities, organizing regional qualifiers for India Football Tour – through which they got a license from a world body called – Football Fives World Championships.
Harsha says that during the travels, they met a lot of stakeholders in football from various state association to football clubs and started branching out into different verticals. “In India, we don’t have an existing football ecosystem at the amateur level. I think this ecosystem can only be created if you have great grassroots infrastructure. And that’s where we saw an opportunity. We identified football is one of the fastest growing sports and our intent was to start with football, understand the sport and its responses; then get deeper into the football eco-system and then move onto sport as general,” said Harsha.
Start of FFL
By forming the Football Fives League (FFL), Harsha feels that they really can make a difference to the sport in grassroots level by engaging with fans for a longer time. “Nobody thought that a concept a franchises based league didn’t exist at an amateur level. A tournament is usually one day or two day, we really don’t get a lot of time with players to do anything, that’s why the league format came up, The whole idea was to create a calendar where leagues happen across India and bring in fans to watch the game. The winning teams will play for the champions’ trophy and that’s how FFL came into existence.”
On being asked the challenges they faced on the road, Harsha replies, “In the first year there were a lot of challenges and learnings as we had 10 teams and 10 venues and each team had a home and an away game. And we did not take account of the Bengaluru traffic and of course, another challenge was to share the logistics and it sometimes used to get a little chaotic because there are three or four matches happening in four different parts of Bengaluru. It becomes a mess of organizing everything but there were lots of good things that come out of.”
About upcoming season
However, the 2018/19 campaign is set to become a watershed season for FFL as they are going to the next level of expansion, in order to accommodate fans and media support in all elements of the local football playing league. “This season we are going to have Bengaluru area based franchisee; we have visited ten areas on how franchisee start forming a team. The ten teams will be representing each area in the city. The league matches will go on for 10-weekends – the first weekend all the team travels to one place, the second week everybody travels to another and then move on to all the ten locations.”
To support this, for the first time ever, the FFL is taking its player profile to the next level by introducing ‘Auctions’ where team owners have to bid for players starting from the base price of 5000 INR to 25, 000 INR. “This year, the players don’t register with the team as we are looking at players from top clubs to attend the trails. We categorize players into four separate groups and we will filter few based on their performance but major chunks will get into auctions.” The FFL is also seeking out commercial partners and sponsors, which will in turn support costs for those involved in the league and also to have more control in terms of creating this alternative revenue model for the players. It will be a big ‘win-win’ for everyone, as well as for the grassroots of the game in Bengaluru. “We already have a media plan that will see us working with numerous media partners, which will provide support for teams, sponsors, and further enhance the league's public image," said Harsha. To make it very simple for the owners, FFL also gives the team a venue unless they have some other venue in their area. They also provide them practice session and complimentary drinks. Plus, owners have one full day to branding tribune to promote their team within the area to let the people know that you have a local team to support.
Owner benefits in FFL
On talking about the owner benefits in the FFL, Harsha said, “Owners can get a home venue where the team can practice for a month to brand themselves. Harsha also stated two spectrums on why the owner's benefit was included in its second season: “Firstly, there was a team owner who hired an assistant coach, hired a coach, hired a physio and he paid salaries to his players. There was no option in the first season, you could bring your squad, form your squad and play with your team.”
Secondly, when a team started losing they stopped engaging with the league. After 7 or 8 losses, we started seeing lesser participation, a couple of flopover and that came with the challenge of travelling also.” But Harsha believes that season 2 is taking the good thing out of the season one and amplifying it increase the stake of the event. “We focus a lot on amateur sports; our players can become professionals. When you give players the opportunity to get public attention – with the options of live streams, fans presence, it becomes easier for other players to come and notice.”
Creating growth in amateur sports
Practice and competition are the only way for the sport to really develop and at the moment, there just aren't enough regular amateur leagues. There is one factor that can impede future growth and improvement in 5-a-side football and that is a lack of competitions. Shree Harsha asserted that events like this held for amateur football players can be very helpful in the development of the sport in the country by stating "One of the thing in India we don't focus much is the amateur sports in which if you follow Iceland and their growth in football over the years. They are an example of how amateur players have aided their growth of the national team.”
“This vertical we want to focus on, we are not starting an academy and grooming players is not our strength but providing a platform at the amateur level to players to get recognized in the beautiful game of football.” In conclusion, 5-a-side football is growing at an impressive rate with multiple pitches popping up all over the country. Players from all walks of life are getting together to play the game. It remains to be seen how the grassroots level of the game will grow because there is not enough competition for amateur teams to sink their teeth into. However, with the help of Football Fives League and its organisers deserve much praise in making the league relevant to so many passionate people in the locals.
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