Why the Odisha FC blueprint might not be ideal for East Bengal?

There has been a lot of clamour over East Bengal’s possible participation in the Indian Super League (ISL) in the past few months. After their arch-rivals Mohun Bagan entered into a merger with ATK earlier in January, fans in West Bengal and all over India are eagerly waiting to see if the Red and Golds will follow their rivals and join the top tier league of India this season.

First and foremost, the biggest challenge the Red and Golds face at the moment is their divorce with existing investors Quess Corp. The Kolkata giants are yet to finalise an exit plan from the joint venture with the Bengaluru-based company which was formed two year backs. 70 per cent stakes in the joint venture - Quess East Bengal - was held by Quess and the remaining by East Bengal.

Unless Quess Corp leaves their 70 per cent stake in the Joint Venture and returns sporting rights to the club, the Kolkata giants will not be able to participate in any league let alone the cash-rich ISL.

Participation in the ISL depends on multiple factors and one of the major condition is a club needs to have a stable financial backing.

Even if East Bengal manages to come out of their joint venture, they are yet to finalise an alternative sponsor or investor who would facilitate the club in joining ISL.

The club officials on multiple occasions have claimed that they are in touch with the West Bengal government who would facilitate their move to join the ISL. "The government is helping out in roping in an investor and it's at an advanced stage. We will announce it when everything is finalised," an East Bengal official told PTI.

Even opposition leader in the state, Dr. Sujan Chakraborty, recently wrote a letter to the Chief Minister of West Bengal and urged the government to help the club join ISL.

"The CPI(M) leader had cited Odisha FC’s example who received a lot of aide from their state government when the owners relocated the club from Delhi.

Chakraborty wrote, “The Odisha government has been actively aiding Odisha FC and are helping them to play in the ISL. We hope that the West Bengal government too will help the clubs from our state and also improve the sports infrastructure of the state.”

Manuel Onwu Odisha FC

In reality, even though, the Odisha state government has provided a lot of support to the club when they relocated, they did not directly invest in the club or buy any stakes.

The deal between Delhi Soccer Private Limited and the Odisha state government included using of sports facilities (stadium, training grounds), hostel accommodation for the club’s youth teams and sponsorship deal with local mining firm Serajuddin and Co. Private Limited. They have also been subsidiary deals with local firms like Utkal Automobiles and AMRI Hospitals.

The Odisha Government also pays a sponsorship sum to the club which is around INR 4-5 Crores. All this amounts to the club saving around INR 8-10 Crores from their annual budget.

A stable ownership structure with a strong financial backing (not a sponsorship deal) is a necessity for ISL to even consider new clubs. While Odisha FC’s primary owner is the shipping giant GMS group, East Bengal do not have an owner or an investor at present.

Any kind of deal with a state government isn’t really a perpetual agreement and that alone will not be enough for a club to join the ISL. The Red and Golds will have to look for a more stable financial backing if they want to join ISL.