Badminton has been a sport that’s been synonymous with some major Indian players like Prakash Padukone, Pullela Gopichand, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. Tapping into the global reach of badminton, Sportzlive, under the aegis of the Badminton Association of India, has initiated the Premier Badminton League (PBL) in India with its fourth season being held this year across five cities over 23 days. Ahmedabad and Pune hosted matches for the first time.
The addition of a new team this year made it a nine-team affair. It featured an impressive total of 90 players from 17 countries that included eight Olympic medallists and eight players ranked in the top 10 ranking. The Badminton Association of India (BAI) President, Himanta Biswa Sarma, said, “PBL has gotten bigger with every season and the growth in the fan following of the sport serves as a testament to it.” The attempt to spread the League through vernacular languages has helped this year as TV viewership jumped from 42 million in the previous year to 155 million this year.
The franchises, in addition to earnings from sponsorship, have been given the rights to hold city badminton leagues, which will allow them to earn additional revenue. “Each franchise is also supposed to run an academy in their respective cities. This too allows them to earn more revenue,” Sarma said. The League, which has Vodafone as the title sponsor, besides Star India as the official broadcaster, is believed to be generating between Rs. 25 - Rs. 35 crore as sponsorship revenue. While the title sponsorship has been sold for about Rs. 10 crore, ‘powered by’ has been sold in the range of Rs. 5 - Rs. 6 crore, while associate sponsors are believed to be paying about Rs. 4 crore. It earns another Rs. 20 crore though franchise fees from the nine teams, and another Rs. 2 crore as gate revenue.
The company expects the central revenue to almost double between 2021 and 2025, as Star India’s contract ends in 2020. The company will hold a fresh bid to find a new broadcaster for the league. Additionally, Sportzlive intends to focus on the digital medium and plans to roll out a fantasy league, besides using social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter to promote the tournament. The League has been growing year- on-year. Atul Pande, Managing Director, SportzLive, said, “This is the only league which has been growing in terms of ratings and reach. I don't know about cricket, but for both kabaddi and football, this has not been a good year. It has been a good year for us.”
There are also interested buyers for newer franchises but quality over quantity is the motto of the organisers. “I don’t think anybody makes money except for the team that wins. We make sure that the new entrants know that they have to bleed for three-four years; it’s an investment business in a way," said Atul Pande.
With players like PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and world and Olympic champion Carolina Marin taking part, it was no surprise that the PBL managed to garner interest from audiences worldwide. The BAI is now focused on getting players from the top bracket. We are trying to have more and more good players and are focusing on the top 25 of the world," said Himanta Biswa Sarma. He added, “BAI and Sportzlive are coming together very firmly and we are making a good partnership now. Those things were not there last year. Because PBL has started attracting crowds consistently, I think we need to start thinking from the point of view of quality. If PBL’s commercial value is more, it will attract players.”
The PBL is one of those ventures that showcase the successful marriage between sports and business. A commercial venture focusing on quality for the benefit of the sport is certainly a good sign for Indian badminton. It allows the Indian youngsters to rub shoulders and learn from some of the best players in the world and provides them with the exposure necessary to improve their game and compete at the top level. The PBL may not be the highest platform in badminton but it certainly is an important one. With shorter points to cater to the audience and the players, the PBL had 43500 footfalls this year.