Premier Badminton League: A starry affair looking for financial stardust

“At this point we are in a wait and watch mode about the next season as it depends on so many factors which are beyond our control,” says Mangipudi Prasad, executive director of Sportzlive which organises the PBL.

\Action in a mixed doubles match in the Premier Badminton League at the GMC Balayogi Stadium in Gachibowli in Hyderabad in February 2020. “The popularity of the game has spread far and wide with PBL,” says Sportzlive Executive Director Mangipudi Prasad.   -  G. Ramakrishna

One of the most eagerly-awaited events in the Indian sporting calendar has been the high-profile Premier Badminton League (PBL), which in a way caught up with the IPL in terms of player participation and unearthing unknown talent.

But, like all other leagues in India, PBL too may not have a smooth run for the next edition in January 2021 owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

“These are still early days. We are keeping a close watch. Sponsorship interest will be lukewarm for Olympic sports,” says Mangipudi Prasad, executive director of Sportzlive which organises the PBL, in a chat with Sportstar.

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“The sponsorship revenue has been low in the past and continues to be a challenge. The teams still face financial challenges as the expenses like players’ salary, employee and travel cost keep going up every year, but the sponsorship revenue hasn’t gone up proportionately,” he says.

“While the expenses are almost the same for all teams, the sponsorship revenue is not uniform for all teams, some manage to get more than others. However, the PBL franchise model aims to have stakeholders who are looking at a sustainable future in badminton and not at short term profits,” says Prasad.

“The sport has definitely taken a quantum leap in the last decade or so. India winning two back-to-back Olympic medals and then the introduction of the Premier Badminton League have ensured that badminton is the most played and followed Olympic sport. Also, the popularity of the game has spread far and wide with PBL,” he adds.

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“Today we have academies in places like Aizwal, Erode and Nashik and players from remote corners of the country are taking to the game. Academies are coming up all over the country including tier 1 and 2 cities,” says the official.

“While until a few years back the participation for sub-junior and junior tournaments were restricted to only 200-300 entries, today the game attracts 2000-3000 entries and these numbers are only rising, which is very encouraging,” he says.

The jubilant Bengaluru Raptors team which retained the Premier Badminton League title, in the fifth edition at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad in February 2020. “We will go ahead with Season 6 only if the conditions are favourable,” says Prasad.   -  Nagara Gopal

 

Prasad agrees that the pandemic will have a serious impact on the PBL.

“However, at this point we are in a wait and watch mode about the next season as it depends on so many factors which are beyond our control. We will be working closely with BAI for Season 6 to happen and take a decision in consultation with them,” he says.

“We have the intent to go ahead with Season 6 only if the conditions are favourable. We have to maintain health safety protocols, so we may look at holding it at a single venue, making necessary changes to the format,” Prasad clarifies. “However we are looking at how to make the league more popular, exciting and viewer friendly,” he adds.

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“We are also exploring grassroots programmes, partnering with academies and schools so that PBL can become a round-the-year programme. In short, if and when we go ahead with Season 6 it will be more about consolidation, expansion and upscaling. If not, Season 7 will be a Big Bang season with all these initiatives falling in place,” Prasad explains.

‘Yes, we may be forced to remodel the league since the sport itself is growing and being the most popular after cricket in India,” he says.

“This definitely means change in strategy on various fronts including publicity, marketing and ensuring the sponsors keep coming back to the league,” he says.

“We take pride in organising a league like PBL which brought top stars like P. V. Sindhu and Tai Tzu closer to the Indian fans who, otherwise, would not have had the privilege.

“This we feel is the biggest contribution to promote Indian badminton as more and more youngsters will get inspired watching them,” says Prasad.

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“The other major area of focus for us for the next edition can well be unlocking the potential of digital medium as digital viewing is becoming a primary habit for many now,” he says.

For a league which costs roughly about ₹40 to ₹50 crore for the organisers and another ₹40 crore is invested by the franchises, it is a huge challenge to conduct it successfully.

“Definitely, we need to change ways and means to ensure the League sustains the interest of everyone involved in it,” he says. “With so many BWF events cancelled in 2020, in all probability, PBL could well be the biggest event once action begins in the world circuit on a full scale and that we believe could be the USP of this league in the next edition,” Prasad signs off with optimism.