Money-Minting Badminton

Saina Nehwal.. commanding a high price.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Overall, even without the Chinese, the IBL promises to provide some exciting fare. It remains to be seen how the hype and hoopla contribute in helping this badminton event catch the imagination of what is essentially a cricket-crazy country, writes Rakesh Rao.

The commercial success of cricket’s Indian Premier League has let many imitations bloom in several other disciplines. After hockey and golf, and state level leagues in volleyball, tennis and chess, it is the turn of badminton to test the waters.

The million-dollar league, the richest in the world, has been talked about for a while now. Since it was announced in October last, the inaugural edition has since been put off from February to June and now finally fixed for August. Six city-based franchisees are on board and the players’ auction too is over. Now, it is time for action.

China is to badminton what India is to cricket. But the Chinese players have stayed away from the IBL, preferring to prepare for their much-awaited National Games. That also means, none of the gold medallists from the 2012 London Games will be around.

If World number one, Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei is the prized catch among men, World number three Saina Nehwal is the biggest draw in the women’s singles. There are some strong singles players in the fray, though the same cannot be said about the doubles — both men and mixed.

Overall, the quality on offer appears good for a start.The timing of the event is particularly significant. Internationally, more Indian players are doing well than ever before. With Saina claiming an Olympic bronze last year, the gains from her triumph in the Super Series events stood reinforced. Though women’s doubles is not part of the format, the presence of G. Jwala and Ashwini Ponnappa — two of the more recognisable faces from Indian badminton — helps the IBL to market the event better. The emergence of 18-year-old P. V. Sindhu as the champion of tomorrow has added to the interest.

Among the men, P. Kashyap has done his bit after reaching the Olympic quarterfinals. With R. M. V. Gurusaidutt and Ajay Jayaram joining Kashyap in the list of top-25 players of the world, India clearly is looking as an emerging force. What gives hope of an even better tomorrow is the rise of youngsters like Saurabh Verma, Sai Praneeth and K. Srikanth, along with not-so-young Anand Pawar — all in the top-50 of the world.

The two-fold benefit of the IBL is hard to miss. Firstly, the Indian players will get to test their skills against some of the stronger players in home conditions. The importance of learning from the seasoned names in their own team cannot be under-minded. Equally vital is the fact that, monetarily, the players stand to gain significantly.

For instance, winning the National championship can make Saina Nehwal richer by around Rs. 2 lakhs. But for turning up for a maximum of seven IBL matches in 17 days, she will be paid in excess of Rs. 70 lakhs! Such is the quantum leap, in varying degrees for different players.

Consider this. In all, 36 Indian players spread over six teams attracted $861,000! In a cash-strapped discipline like badminton, this is big money for being part of a domestic event.

Parupalli Kashyap... rewarded for his potential.-PTI

Even for the franchisees, with a kitty of $275,000 for the auction, there is enough incentive to stay in the IBL. With a commitment of around Rs. 150 crore over a 10-year period, these franchisees will be fighting for a prize-fund of 1 million dollars. The winner’s purse is $350,000 besides a share in the revenue generated by sale of television rights, individual sponsor logo and gate-money as host.

In any business model, it is usually believed that a minimum of two to three years are needed to break even. Here, the champion of the first edition may well break even in the first year itself!

Coming to the composition of various teams, Mumbai and Hyderabad appeared to have done their homework better than the rest, in the players’ auction. Mumbai grabbed Lee Chong Wei for $135,000, outbidding Delhi whose Chief Coach Rashid Sidek is the man behind the success of the World number one.

Hyderabad went all out for Saina and bagged her for $120,000 while Pune bid the highest of $90,000 for Germany’s Juliane Schenk, placed fourth, a rung below the Indian on the ranking list. Kashyap went Bangalore’s way at $75,000. In comparison, Lucknow bought Sindhu for $80,000. It also invested in Gurusaidutt ($40,000), K. Srikanth ($34,000) and young doubles specialist K. Maneesha ($26,000). Delhi added Jwala to its ranks for $31,000 over the revised base-price of $25,000, a price at which Ashwini went by default to Pune. The duo had more reasons than one to feel let down.

But most people agreed that luck truly favoured the likes of lesser-known doubles players like Tarun Kona and Pradnya Gadre. After Kona was brought for $28,000, Hyderabad spent a whopping $46,000 to find Pradnya as his partner for mixed doubles. This was the most expensive Indian combination, worth $74,000, by a team that completed its quota of four foreign players for just $50,000!

“I cannot believe the way the auction went for some of the Indians. I am so happy,” said Chief coach P. Gopi Chand minutes after the auction in New Delhi. “It is so good for all the young Indian players who will be having such a healthy bank balance so early in their careers.”

Former National champion Aparna Popat, coach of Mumbai, too, looked pleased. “We went about our job (at the auction) in a calculated way and got what we had come for. I guess all the teams, more or less, found the balance they had in mind. I can certainly say that Mumbai planned it right.”

Bangalore’s think-tank Vimal Kumar, a former National champion, ex-chief coach and the one who resigned from the panel of national selectors and the IBL governing council last year, was happy. “It is a new concept and I hope things get better as we go along. With Hu Yun (World number six from Hong Kong) and Kashyap, we have a good presence in the men’s singles. We also bagged Tai Tzu Ying, who has a victory over Saina. In the doubles, we can cause a few surprises.”

P.V. Sindhu... India's hope and joy.-PTI

Rashid Sidek rued missing out on Lee Chong Wei but was pleased on getting his countrymen Boon Heong Tan and Kien Keat Koo, the world’s second ranked men’s pair for a whopping $100,000. Delhi also reunited Jwala with her former mixed doubles partner V. Diju. “With Jwala, I need to work a lot on her fitness and focus,” said Sidek soon after the auction. “We have good chances in doubles and expect young Indians like H. S. Prannoy and Sai Praneeth to upstage some higher ranked players.”

Pune and Lucknow landed a fair mix but their gains cannot be termed as particularly formidable.

Overall, even without the Chinese, the IBL promises to provide some exciting fare once the caravan rolls out of New Delhi. It remains to be seen how the hype and hoopla contribute in helping the event catch the imagination of this essentially cricket-crazy country.

Though a community sport in this country for years, it is time badminton graduated to the next level, enjoying the support of the masses.

PLAYERS AND THEIR PRICE TAGS (Prices in US dollars) Banga Beats, Bangalore

P. Kashyap (India) 75,000, Hu Yun (Hong Kong) 50,000, Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei) 25,000, Carolina Marin (Spain) 10,000, Carston Margensen (Denmark) 50,000, Akshay Dewalkar (India) 36,000, Aparna Balan (India) 12,000, Aditya Prakash (India) 5,000, Arvind Bhat (India) 7,500, J. Meghana (India) 4,000.

Krrish Delhi Smashers

Jwala Gutta (India) 31,000, Wong Wing Ki (Hong Kong) 20,000, H. S. Prannoy (India) 16,000, Sai Praneeth (India) 40,000, Arundhati Panthawane (India) 15,000, Boon Hoeng Tan (Malaysia) 50,000, Kien Keat Koo (Malaysia) 50,000, V. Diju (India) 30,000, Nichaon Jindapon (Thailand) 15,000, Prajakta Sawant (India) 7,000.

Hyderabad Hotshots

Saina Nehwal (India) 120,000, Taufik Hidayat (Indonesia) 15,000, Ajay Jayaram (India) 25,000, V. Shem Goh (Malaysia) 10,000, Tarun Kona (India) 28,000, Pradnya Gadre (India) 46,000, Khim Wah Lim (Malaysia) 10,000, S. Tanongsak (Thailand) 15,000, Kanthi Visalakshi P. (India) 3,000, Shubhankar Dey (India) 3,000.

Awadhe Warriors, Lucknow

P. V. Sindhu (India) 80,000, Weng Fei Chong (Malaysia), 25,000, Guru Sai Dutt (India) 40,000, K. Srikanth (India) 34,000, Sapsiree Taerattanachai (Thailand) 15,000, Ruthvika Shivani (India) 3,000, Marcis Kido (Indonesia) 15,500, Maneepong Jongjit (Thailand) 10,000, K. Maneesha (India) 26,000, Nanda Gopal (India)10, 000.

Mumbai Masters

Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia) 135,000, Marc Zweibler (Germany) 15,000, Tine Baun (Denmark) 30,000, Pranav Jerry Chopra (India) 36,000, Manu Attri (India) 10,000, Siki Reddy (India) 11,000, P. C. Thulasi (India) 10,000, Vladimir Ivanov (Russia) 15,000, Rasika Raje (India) 3,000, Sumeet Reddy (India) 7500.

Pune Pistons

Ashwini Ponappa (India) 25,000, Nyugen tien Minh (Vietnam) 44,000, Saurabh Verma (India) 20,000, Anup Sridhar (India) 6,000, Juliane Schenk (Germany) 90,000, Joachiam Fischer Nielsen (Denmark) 35,000, Sanave Thomas (India) 5,000, Arun Vishnu (India) 26,000, Wee Kiong Tan (Malaysia) 15,000, Rupesh Kumar (India) 5,000.