MUMBAI: Hockey India, the official body of the sport in India, has revealed plans to launch its own franchise-based league to rival World Series Hockey which is co-promoted by Indian Hockey Federation and Harish Thawani's Nimbus Sport.
HI will work with its exclusive marketing partner Twenty First Century Media to launch the league. TCM will be responsible for handling sponsorship, media rights and getting franchises on board for the league.
The league, to be played on home-and away basis, is expected to debut in January next year with the International Hockey Federation giving it a one month window from 1-30 January to ensure the participation of top foreign players.
The yet-to-be named league will have six city-based teams selected from a pool of 12 cities that have infrastructure and facilities to host a match.
The six teams can have a maximum of 24 players in their squad with six Indian and foreign marquee players each. HI has fixed the salary cap at Rs 30 million with players divided into four slabs selected through IPL style auction in September.
Players will be given prerogative to choose their base price which will have four slabs.
"Our league will be one of the best as it will have all the top players participating in it," HI secretary Narinder Batra tells Indiantelevision.com. "We will work with our marketing partner TCM on the league. We are offering the franchises on first come basis as well as through auction."
HI is in talks with broadcasters to televise the event live.
"We are in talks with several broadcasters but I don't want to disclose anything at this stage," a guarded Batra says.
The battle to grab the telecast rights of the hockey league is widely believed to be between, ESPN Star Sports and Ten Sports, with the possibility of Sony Six entering the fray not being ruled out. Six is the newly launched sports entertainment channel from Multi Screen Media which will broadcast IPL from next year.
Ten Sports, sources say, has shown keen interest.
Will World Series Hockey players be allowed to participate in the league" "I can't talk on this matter because of legal reasons," avers Batra.
He also brushes aside apprehensions about availability of stadias saying, "For your information almost all the stadias are under Sports Authority of India and they don't belong to any particular body (read IHF), so I don't think stadium (availability) is an issue."
The participation of Pakistan players hinges on government clearance since the sporting ties between the two neighbours are yet to normalise. However, in the recently concluded WSH several Pakistani players including former captain Rehan Butt had participated in the tournament.
The move by HI is very much reminiscent of the BCCI launching IPL in 2008 to counter Zee's ICL which resulted in the untimely death of the 'rebel' league. The BCCI had later granted amnesty to all the players and officials associated with ICL which ensured their return to the parent body.
It will be interesting to see what impact HI’s league will have on the IHF's WSH. However, all depends on the players who are contracted to Nimbus as any attempt by players to switch sides will threaten the very survival of WSH.
"Making announcement is easy but it is not a joke to organise a league. It requires huge investments," a senior Nimbus official says on condition of anonymity.
The official also insists that all the WSH players have signed exclusive contracts which prevents them from participating in any other league in India.
The HI has its task cut out as it will realise the difference between making announcements and actually executing a sporting event on the ground.
While HI can take heart with the fact that it has national and international players on its side, that alone will not guarantee corporate support as the league has to make business sense for corporates who will look at return on investments over a period of time.
The FIH had earlier insisted that the two bodies sort out their differences. However, efforts towards reconciliation have headed nowhere with even sports minister Ajay Maken failing in attempts to bring the two warring bodies together.
HI and IHF have been at loggerheads ever since Suresh Kalmadi helmed Indian Olympic Association had dismissed the latter in 2008, after then secretary K Jyothikumaran was caught taking bribe.
Both bodies have since been claiming to be the governing body of the sport with the Delhi High Court setting aside IOA's decision to dismiss IHF restoring its pre-2008 status as the national hockey body.
While HI is recognised by the FIH and has the authority to select players for the national teams, the IHF has the backing of Indian sports ministry and has certain stadiums under its possession.
Indian hockey is in for interesting times with sports broadcasters looking at sourcing other sports content to reduce their overwhelming depending on cricket, the acquisition rights of which are touching astronomical prices amid hotly contested competitive bidding.