For a cricket-crazy nation, there are many new ball games

Written by Abhishek Chakraborty | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 18 2014, 21:09pm hrs
IPLIPL spawns a series of similar tournaments across various sporting formats. Reuters
In the recent draft held in Dubai for the inaugural International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), slated for the end of this year, some of the biggest names from the world of tennis confirmed their participation. The scale of the cash-rich, IPL-style tournament can be gauged from the fact that of the 28 players selected, 21 are Grand Slam champions and 14 past and present number ones. A total of $24 million was spent on the draft process, with Spains Rafael Nadal expected to receive a whopping $1 million per match.

In a game where nothing is considered to match the class or interest garnered by the four Grand SlamsAustralian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open, also considered the four pillars of tennisthe Mahesh Bhupathi-promoted sporting extravaganza can prove to be an exciting proposition.

The IPTL is a spin-off of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the immensely popular slam-bang cricketing tournament that has spawned a series of individual league tournaments in India across various sporting formats. Be it the Hockey India League (HIL) or Indian Badminton League (IBL) or proposed events like the the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), Indian Super League (ISL) and Indian Wrestling League (IWL), every sporting format, it seems, is coming up with a league of its own. The heartening bit is that several private players are also showing keen interest in sporting events other than cricket.

So, is India finally shedding its one-sport nation tag Cricket commentator Ayaz Memon believes the future of the new league tournaments will depend on how they are managed and how much money is available in the economy. In IPL too, there were many glitches. Two teams had to opt out of the league because of financial reasons. However, the good part is the revenue generation has not stopped and the franchisee owners have managed to pull in good money so far.

These league tournaments, all run by private groups in partnership with their respective sports governing bodies, hope to earn most of their money through television and online broadcast deals and sponsorships, akin to the IPL model. In IPL, it was the revenue model that encouraged others. The TV telecast rights were sold in high numbers every year, says Memon.

The World Series Hockey pulled in $3 million for its first season from sponsors, which include Bridgestone and Vodafone. This covered about a tenth of the costs. In addition, each team has its own sponsors. In IPTL too, as per Bhupathi, each team has a salary cap of $10 million and there is a minimum as well; so the organisers have to spend at least $4 million.

The Pro Kabaddi League has got takers in the form of Future Groups Kishore Biyani, Kotak Bank promoter Uday Kotak, Unilazers Ronnie Screwvala, among others. It is said the investment by each franchisee will be around

R5 crore a year.

Memon believes the leagues have also opened up employment options for many young players. Today, there are some young hockey players who are earning R25-30 lakh, he says.

However, Ashish Chadha, CEO of Sporty Solutionz, IBLs commercial partner, is of the belief that our dependency on sponsorships needs to be reduced. The problem here is too much of dependency on sponsorship, which is not the case when it comes to international leagues. Their fan base, merchandising, etc, are so strong that the leagues dont have to think much about sponsorship.

When IPL started in 2008, it was appreciated by the people because the matches were completed in just three to four hours, rather than a day-long affair of a traditional 50-over ODI match. Moreover, it happened at a time when no other league was scheduled anywhere in the world.

The new leagues too have started following the same formula. IPTL is about to begin in November. IWL, too, is scheduled for mid-November as the World Championships will be over by then. November suits us as the World Championships are over and all big players would be available. We can hold our national championships before that, said IWL commissioner and chairman GS Mander.

The organisers have partnered with Sporty Solutionz, which had successfully organised IBL last year, to launch this venture.

Like all IPL events, star power is in full play. While actor John Abraham showed interest in HIL by buying a stake in Delhi Waveriders and becoming a co-owner, Sunil Gavaskar and Telugu actor Akkineni Nagarjuna became associated with IBL. While nothing has been announced in case of IPTL, except the players who have been signed by each of the teams, the likes of Nadal, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, among others, who have confirmed their participation in the tournament, are strong crowd magnets. Chadha believes for any league to sustain, the important thing is to create a fan base.

When compared to global leagues like the EPL, which go on for 10 months a year, IPL is just a two-month-long affair. We have to create a similar fan base here, he adds.

Though IBL suffered a loss of R25 crore in the last edition, Chadha is hopeful of breaking even this year.

The growth charts in the first edition of the league are phenomenal. No one had imagined that tickets for badminton matches will be sold for R2,000, adds Chadha.