Dubai: If young P.V. Sindhu has given the Indian badminton fraternity good reasons to cheer with the first women’s medal at the World Championships in Guang Zhou, there is a feast awaiting the lovers of the sport in a few days’ time — the Indian Badminton League (IBL).
The inaugural edition of the $1 million (Dh3.67 million) league, to be held from August 14-31 with some of the biggest names in the world stage, will mark a watershed moment in Indian sport in its attempt to break free of the strangehold of cricket.
With six city-based franchises, a high-profile auction late last month and sustained media blitz, the hype has been certainly up to the mark and the action should be equally riveting.
The theme song of IBL — ‘Net lagao, pyar barhao’ (put up the net, spread the cheer), which keeps coming back in TV spots — has already become quite a hit — making the cricket-crazy Indians warm up to the anticipation of watching the likes of men’s world No 1 Lee Chong Wei or Saina Nehwal in action. There will be a fair presence of the Bollywood quotient as well, though the event managers are not ready to commit themselves on it.
Speaking to Gulf News with barely three days to go before the gala opening ceremony in Mumbai, Manish Kumar, Vice-President of Sporty Solutionz, who are co-hosting the event with the Badminton Association of India (BAI), admits to having butterflies in the stomach.
“The sport may not be as big as cricket or football, but there is a certain freshness about it,” he said in a phone interview.
It’s a sport that has produced some top-class champions from India such Prakash Padukone and Pulella Gopichand, and the likes of Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu or Parupalli Kashyap are the torchbearers of the legacy. Gopichand, now India’s chief coach and the mentor of world No 3 Nehwal, is excited about the whole project and said in a recent interview that the launch of the league is a “historic moment” for Indian badminton.
Asked about the genesis of the franchise-based tournament, Kumar had no qualms about admitting that the league — much like the proposed football fare — has been inspired by the IPL.
“We had started the spadework around April last year by approaching the top players as well trying to sell the concept to prospective takers,” Kumar said. “Initially, the plan was to have the auction earlier with the tournament around June, but the players wanted to have it after the World Championships.”
The positioning of the tournament has won the corporates’ eyeballs so far. While Vodafone has been tied up as title-sponsor, a number of reputed industrial houses like Sahara and Dabur have lined up as owners of the franchises. ESPN and Star Sports 2 will telecast the matches, which will be held in the evening (4pm and 8pm India time), while Fox Sports will air them outside India.
While the IPL may have given the cue to disciplines like football and badminton to cash in on city-based loyalties, the cash-rich extravaganza has not really showed thrown up any clear revenue model for the teams even six years after its inception.
Asked what the future holds for franchise owners of the IBL, Kumar said: “The scale of operation is much smaller here and teams should break even in three to four years. Incidentally, the prize purse for the top two teams is also a big incentive in the teams’ pursuit to be self-sufficient with Rs35 million at stake for winners and Rs20 million for the runners-up.”