Two postponements and counting,Indian Badminton League in limbo

Announced with much fanfare in the buoyant backdrop of the Srinagar Nationals last year and wishfully hoping for a rub-off effect of IPL

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai | Published: May 31, 2013 12:59 am

Announced with much fanfare in the buoyant backdrop of the Srinagar Nationals last year and wishfully hoping for a rub-off effect of IPL,the Indian Badminton League is lurching in its take-off.

Two postponements — from February to June,and now from June to August — haven’t helped its cause,and there’s strong murmurs about a third deferment,given that Delhi-based Sporty Solutionz who own this sports property,have announced neither the six franchise owners nor a date for the players’ auction.

With the announcements of team-owners put on hold again — they were supposed to be declared earlier this week — players and the game’s followers are beginning to wonder. “They’ve postponed the tournament saying that they want to ensure availability of the best players. But from what we’ve heard,they’re struggling to find team-buyers. Only 2-3 groups came close to committing,and even those are not confirmed,” said a source who is tracking the developments from close quarters.

Sporty Solutionz’s Manish Kumar,VP-PR & Event,said,“All franchises are sold,but owners have asked us to keep it under wraps.”

“On the one hand they’ve promised player auctions in the second week of June,but with no clarity about who’s pitching in with the money we expect another postponement,” the source added. When the league was announced in December,the player auctions were slated for March,but have been pushed back twice now.

As such,the trouble is not the organiser’s inability to find team-buyers — for it’s no doubt a humongous task to sell a sport,except cricket in India.

The problem,an observer says,is the ambitious scale of the league which meant that anyone interested in picking a team would have to shell out Rs 6 crore for a season. The sport even after factoring in Saina Nehwal’s popularity isn’t exactly seen as a goldmine for corporate sponsors neither in financial returns,nor in ensuring visibility for a brand,as was envisaged by those who put the league-plan together.

“It’s still badminton,and keep in mind Saina Nehwal’s the only athlete who can command that kind of a budget. The rest are good,promising players,but nowhere close to fetching that kind of a spending purse. A franchise worth Rs 3.5 crore,player expenses around Rs 1.5 cr and at least Rs 50-75 lakh on logistics is far too preposterous for a sport like badminton,” a critic who preaches scaling down of the entire exercise,stresses.

A leading corporate,keen on investing in badminton’s grassroot development,however,was not too excited about pouring cash on an untested league and over-paying average Indian shuttlers.

Of the 6 teams — Pune Vijetas,Lucknow Warriors,Rajdhani Smashers,Mumbai Masters,Karnataka Kings and Hyderabad Hotshots — only the champion team has any hopes of eventually breaking even. “At 5-6 crore,it’s a tough call for the corporates to take. A tad unrealistic,given that returns are hard to spell out,” the source adds.

In a definite over-hyping of Indian players,a top foreign doubles star might end up earning 20 per cent of what a lesser-ranked Indian icon does.

“Only Saina has that stature,so the league’s gotten its proportions a little skewed. They’re getting their math wrong,” says the coach. The event managers,will no doubt keep the regulation entertainment bit of the bargain,but they look like goofing up on the badminton. Former players like Vimal Kumar who were named on the governing council of the IBL,are largely clueless about the goings-on and have not been part of a single meeting.

Pradeep Gandhe,BAI’s official on IBL’s governing council,said that there would be more clarity in the coming days. “We’ll set the ball rolling soon,” he said,not committing to a date.

The event managers obtusely approached a Danish legend to be a coach,and offered him a fraction of what an Indian ranked 15 would be given. The Chinese and Korean shuttlers – strictly controlled by their national team centres – haven’t confirmed participation,meaning the absolute big guys,unlike in IPL,might not be seen in action.

Meanwhile Indian players,paraded as heroes and promised the big bucks,remain anxious,with no clarity on the league that was promised to bring them glamour. “As followers,we all want badminton to grow. We are hoping it takes off,for it will be good for the whole fraternity. But the IBL as it seems today doesn’t inspire confidence,” the critic adds.

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