PBL: Setting stage for next big thing on Indian sporting landscape

MUMBAI: India has witnessed the emergence of a multi-sports culture over the past few years. This significant development has come on the back of a promising display by Indian sportspersons across various disciplines, the meteoric rise of home grown leagues and the consequent widening of the fan base of sports such as badminton, kabaddi, soccer, hockey, and wrestling.

Badminton has always been one of the precursors in attracting the attention of the Indian sports fan to the sporting universe that extends beyond Cricket. The Sindhu vs Marin final at the Olympic Games attracted a whopping 17 million viewers, making it the most watched Olympics tie ever in the country. However, the popularity of badminton is not driven just by this record breaking match. Over the past five years, we have seen more and more Indians breaking into the top 20 world rankings. Badminton outsells every other sport in terms of sales on e-commerce portals. Courts are mushrooming all over the country in new age residential complexes and sports clubs. The sport is truly on its way to becoming mainstream for a new generation of Indians.

The Premier Badminton League, launched in 2016, aims to target this generation of youngsters. Being the richest badminton league in the world, the second edition is expected to feature the world’s best players including Spain’s Carolina Marin, China’s Lin Dan, Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen and Jan O Jorgensen, Thailand’s RatchanokIntanon, and Korea’s Lee Yong Dae and YooYeon Song, amongst others facing off in front of Indian fans.

2016 has been a great year for Indian Badminton with Saina Nehwal’s Australian Super Series victory and Kidambi Srikanth’s south Asian games singles’ gold giving company to Sindhu’s silver medal finish at the Olympics. India is fast emerging as a force in the world of Badminton and giving traditional powerhouses like China, Indonesia and Malaysia a run for their money with performances from the likes of Parupalli Kashyap, B Sai Praneeth, PC Thulasi complementing those of Saina, Srikanth and Sindhu. The Premier Badminton League has been one of the catalysts to lead this change in terms of bringing the home grown stars to compete with the global talent in a league that matches the standards of any world class tournament.

While the inaugural edition proved to be the ideal training ground for PV Sindhu to build herself for the Olympics, winning all five matches that she played for Chennai Smashers, the Premier Badminton League has also brought the talent of youngsters like Siril Verma, Vrushalli Gummaddi and Manu Attri to the fore. The league, under the aegis of the Badminton Association of India has played an important role in bringing in more and more international stars to the Indian shores and allowing the Indian talent to lock horns with the best in the world and hone their own skills in the process.

With badminton steadily amplifying its reach to the Indian sports fan resulting from promising performances of the Indian players in international tournaments, the Premier Badminton League provided a healthy boost in terms of viewership numbers allowing for badminton to reach to a more diverse audience base.The League introduced the fresh idea for a format in which each of the competing teams will nominate one match in each tie as their trump card to further stimulate the element of audience interest in the tournament. A victory by the team that picks the particular game as its trump will provide it with one extra point but a defeat will set it back by one point, the intent being generating intrigue that would keep the ties alive till the very end, providing edge of the seat action to the viewer.

Further, the league provided recognition to those who are the most integral part of the sport - the players. Top stars Saina Nehwal and Lee Chong Wei fetched contracts amounting to US$100,000, while Indian shuttlers P.V. Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth were bought for a whopping US$95,000 and US$80,000, respectively.

The tournament was not only instrumental in raising the stature and 'relatability' of the sport amongst the Indian audience but also played a key role in enhancing the reach of the sport to a more global audience. With the next edition of the tournament slated for December 2016, we are already salivating at the prospect of watching the rematch between Sindhu and Marin. There could not be a better way to kick off the new year for sports fans in India.

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