In December, a tennis league will start with six teams, probably in Pune. Aniruddha Deshpande, chairman and managing director, City Corporation Ltd, a Pune-based real estate developer, and a sponsor of the league, says he has received approvals from the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA).
“We need to sign an agreement before team auctions,” he says, adding that they expect to start a chess league also by March.
Also in Pune, the two-year-old Gagan Narang’s Gun For Glory Shooting Academy now has the additional services of a gunsmith, who has set up shop near it. A gunsmith is necessary to customize a gun since each individual requires some changes to the weapon.
With the success of cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) showing the opportunities for business in sport, the league format has caught on in sports ranging from badminton, hockey and basketball to tennis and chess. While the IPL is five years old, some of the others are one-four years old.
These leagues, at both the national and state levels, are not just business ventures—they also support secondary businesses like the gunsmith’s. Additionally, organizers say they not only help sportspeople in their trade, but also to plan a career beyond sport, and popularize other disciplines.
Greenback: Sher-e-Punjab won the inaugural WSH. Photo: Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times
Cricket, for example, has a state-level event like the Maharashtra Premier League. Run by the Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) and the Sakal media group, it has been around for over two years. Deshpande, who unsuccessfully bid for the Pune team in the second round of auctions for the IPL, is also involved in the two-seasons-old Maharashtra Badminton League, which held its second set of matches last month.
Manisha Malhotra, administrator of the Mittal Champions Trust, a non-profit organization that helps Olympic aspirants, says every game is different and needs a different format. “For example, chess is not a viewer-friendly game while archery does not lend itself to a league format,” she says. “Promoters will have to devise out-of-the-box models for sports such as these.”
Promoters of sports leagues accept that at a rudimentary level, this is a public-private partnership where they work with the national administrator, which provides the guidance and sanctions, etc.
“A league format benefits players,” says Deshpande. “We bring in franchisees who, as owners, adopt a player completely. They take over the training, financing, physio…they nurse the player. It also benefits the player financially.”
Roshan Minz, who played for the Pune Strykers team in the Bridgestone World Series Hockey (WSH), for example, earned Rs 50 lakh in the inaugural WSH League.
Creating a path for new players and popularizing the game are also among the franchise owner’s responsibilities, says Heenu Nanwani, director of Chennai Sports Organisers Pvt. Ltd, the holding company of Chennai Cheetahs, a WSH franchisee. “We plan to hold smaller tournaments across southern India which will allow new players to come up and build excitement around hockey,” says Nanwani. This is expected to get them a fan following and is part of their business development plan, she says, since the game and players will prosper if the event is handled professionally—with profit as a motive.
Nanwani says: “I am not sure if turning a sport into a league event prolongs a player’s shelf life but it definitely opens up new avenues in the same field. So once a player’s on-field days are over, he can become a mentor, an adviser, manager, coach…. But most importantly, players get recognition, exposure and earn from this. For any sport to grow, it must become a business.”
The profit motive
The inaugural WSH, held as an eight-city, franchisee-based event from February-April, is a joint initiative of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and Nimbus Sport. The total prize money for the 59-match event was Rs 10 crore.
“We are out of pocket this year, which was our first, but every business has its gestation period. We are giving it time and we need to pull in the crowd, for which we need to hold smaller, local events. This will develop talent,” Nanwani says.
The WSH model requires each franchisee to pay a one-time acquisition fee, an annual licence fee and bear the operating costs, a model that is used by most other sports as well. The WSH includes top domestic and international players.
At a more local level, the math is easier. Deshpande says the nine-day badminton league held in Pune had a turnover of Rs 1.2 crore this year. This revenue is achieved through sponsorships and player auctions and includes the prize money.
Malhotra rues the fact that India remains among the few countries where sports is not regarded as entertainment. “Sports IS entertainment and the business opportunity in this is huge!” she says.
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