Two-time Indian Super League (ISL) champions ATK are set to announce a merger with I-League club Mohun Bagan, one of the oldest and most successful teams in Indian football.
ESPN understands that the two clubs have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), with an official announcement to follow soon. However, details about the merged entity will only be known once the merger is made public. For the moment, ATK are in the race for top honours in the ISL, while Mohun Bagan are also in the running for what would be their fifth national title in the I-League.
It is understood that Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), the marketing partners of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) that runs the ISL, were keen on including either Mohun Bagan or their crosstown rivals East Bengal in the ISL since the franchise-based league began running concurrently with the I-League in 2017-18.
However, both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal had refused to join the ISL, stating an objection to the franchise fee of INR 15 crore (approx. $ 2.1 million) as well as an unwillingness to give up rights to controlling identifiers like their names, logos, jerseys, and to move out of Kolkata, owing to ISL's prevalent one-club-per-city rule.
ATK had been in talks with both teams, but East Bengal's sponsorship with Quess, which came about in 2018, did not allow them to entertain any question of rebranding the name. This meant that Bagan were left as the only choice for the ISL club to merge with. FSDL were also keen on the merger to happen, especially considering how ATK's attendance figures had dropped significantly in the ISL despite two title-winning runs in 2014 and 2016. Average attendances in ATK's home matches in the first two seasons were 45,171 and 50,707, respectively. These dropped to 11,703 the following season, when the club had to play home matches at the smaller Rabindra Sarobar Stadium. However, a return to the Salt Lake Stadium only took average attendance up to 12,669 and 18,310 over the next two seasons.
"There have been reports about our merger for more than two years now. Every club looks to consolidate, either through tie-ups with sponsors or with other clubs," a high-placed official with Mohun Bagan told ESPN. "We'll announce any change in structure, which has been planned for some time now, as and when it happens."
Mohun Bagan, established in 1889, often call themselves the 'national' club of India. They won the IFA Shield in pre-independent India in 1911, making them the first Indian club to have won a domestic competition at a time when most of the field comprised British teams, usually from armed forces. Bagan also won the National Football League (NFL) in 1998, 2000 and 2002, and won it again after its rebranding as the I-League in 2015. They are also record 14-times champions of the now-defunct Federation Cup, once India's premier cup competition.