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A file photo of P. Kashyap. Photo: Hindustan Times
A file photo of P. Kashyap. Photo: Hindustan Times

Big tests ahead for Indian Badminton League

The new Indian Badminton League will face challenges of sustainability and sponsorships

The Indian Badminton League (IBL) that was launched earlier this week promises hefty bounties for players, but whether this league, starting 14 August, will deliver the same for owners of the six teams is one of the factors that will decide its future. Experts say the league will have to prove itself, as advertisers adopt a wait and watch policy before putting money behind another league modelled around the controversial but successful Indian Premier League (IPL).

“The biggest challenge will be commercial, that of attracting sponsorships," said a senior official from a sports channel who did not want to be named. “If you look at the World Series Hockey or the Hockey India League, you will see that while the ratings of non-cricket events have been encouraging, they are still negligible compared with cricket."

Similar leagues for wrestling, tennis and motorsports were announced but never took off. A boxing league evoked poor response while only the two hockey leagues have managed to get some attention from sponsors.

According to ESPN Software India Pvt. Ltd, the Hockey India League 2013, which was broadcast in Hindi on Star Sports with select matches in English on Star Cricket, had six associate sponsors—Dabur India, Tata Teleservices, Amul, LIC, Micromax and VU Technologies. The reach for the Hockey India League was 41.1 million, according to television audience measurement, or TAM, ratings data supplied by the channel. Nimbus Communications Ltd says the World Series Hockey (February-April 2012) got a reach of 32 million. In comparison, the most famous badminton event, the All England (7-10 March 2013), shown on Neo Sports, had an all India reach of around 1.4 million.

A senior IBL official said the broadcast and digital rights have been sold. A person close to the development said Star Sports has bagged the rights, but an official announcement has not been made.

The problem going ahead, some say, could be that sponsors come on board a sporting property hoping it will turn out to be the next IPL. The IPL registered an absolute audience of 168 million in 2012, a growth of 68% over a five-year period. It delivers close to 2.5 billion eyeballs each year, Sundar Raman, chief executive officer for IPL, had said in April.

“The problem with all these leagues is the same. People take the success of the IPL for granted without realizing that cricket has a strong base in India. When you set up a league, you have to develop the sport from the grass roots," said an official from a sports body on condition of anonymity. He said the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) sets aside funds each year to develop the game, train coaches, etc. “That will sustain the sport in the long run," he said.

Harish Krishnamachar, senior vice-president and country head (India) of sports marketing agency World Sport Group (India) Pvt. Ltd, says the common error is to make cricket the benchmark. “The challenge is to be able to address the specific interest group for a particular sport," he says.

Sounding a word of caution, a senior official from a sports channel said any promoter getting into this should be able to bear losses for the first few years, and keep in mind that they will have to build the sport up, before it starts reaping rewards.

While big names will help the six teams land some sponsor interest, it may not be sustainable in the long run. “The sport has largely been personality-led. So, while Saina Nehwal may have become a household name and could attract a fair share of endorsements, it will be tougher for teams. The league will have to prove itself before advertisers invest in it," says Dhruv Jha, business head, brand experience, Lodestar UM, a media agency.

There is cause for optimism. “The difference between this league and some of the others is that this one has a good mix of Indian and international players, barring the top Chinese players. So, as long as there are marquee players, there will be enough attendance in stadia," says Indranil Das Blah, chief operating officer, Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions Pvt. Ltd.

“The IBL is well-poised to generate viewer interest. It has made all the right moves, is well formatted in home and away matches, and have their promotions planned," says Vinit Karnik, national director, entertainment—sports and live events, GroupM–ESP, a division of media buying agency GroupM. He adds that pricing and what advertisers could get out of the association will play an important role in securing sponsorships.

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