Why the Premier Badminton League looks promising

MUMBAI: There was a time not so long ago when India was just a one-trick pony as far as sport is concerned. And we all know what that game is: cricket. Recently a clutch of new sports have been getting a shot in the arm: kabaddi, soccer, basketball and of course badminton.

The shuttlecock sport – which has its origin in British India Poona and was even called by that name once – has had its Indian champions in the form of Khanna, Nandu Natekar, Prakash Padukone, Syed Modi, and Pulela Gopichand who brought home international titles and got accolades from the government. Most apart from Padukone are but a memory.

Over the past decade Badminton has been getting a lot of media coverage courtesy the emergence of a new crop of players such as  PV Sindhu,  Srikanth Kidambi, Saina Nahiwal who have gone on to top the world rankings and won some major titles and Olympic silvers and bronzes.

A survey by British research firm SMG Insight in 2012 revealed that badminton ranks just behind cricket in terms of a sport that Indians choose to play regularly and the fourth most followed after cricket, tennis and football. Additionally, another survey in 2018 revealed that the interest in Badminton among Indians has more than doubled since 2017, and has gone up by 40 per cent in 2019 over 2018. 

India’s success at the global level and in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) championships since 2010 has no doubt helped in buoying the popularity of the sport even further. And the Star India network (now Disney Star India) has been putting all its might behind badminton by continuously backing the Premier Badminton League (PBL) since 2016. Its creators SportzLive had a stop-start in its first edition which was called the Indian Badminton League in 2013.

That sports other than cricket are getting popular in India is evidenced by the commercial success of the PKL, and the ISL. Reams have been written about how valuable they have become.

But, almost silently, the PBL too has been growing. In its second edition in 2016 (under Star’s steerage) it had a reach of 35 million. However, the PBL’s 2019 reach was a staggering 133 million.  That’s an eye-popping increase of 280 per cent between Season 1 and Season 4.

The second and third editions had 14 days of live telecasts, while the next two had 23 days. The number of teams participating went up from six in 2016 to nine in 2018- 2019. The 2019-20 version will see seven franchises slugging it out on the badminton courts for the Rs six crore prize for the winner and Rs three crore for the runner up  as the PBL gets into its sixth edition in end December.   24 matches are scheduled to be played in toto.

PBL’s rising popularity can also be gauged from the fact that awareness of the league has gone up from 50 per cent in 2018 to 57 per cent in 2019, as per an industry survey.

Thanks to the immense popularity of PBL, international Badminton icons like Carolina Marin and Lee Chong Wei have garnered huge fan following in India, at times, even surpassing their fan following in their home countries. Marin, for instance is the brand ambassador to promote Spain’s premier soccer league – La Liga – in India. Brands are also trying to leverage the rising popularity of Badminton players. PNB Metlife, Visa, JBL, Yonex, Stayfree, Flipkart, Bridgestone, Moov, Gatorade, Nokia, and Panasonic have partnered with PV Sindhu. Chinese sports brand Li Ning has partnered with both Sindhu and Srikanth Kidambi. Also, seeking to cash-in on the rising popularity of PBL, new sports brands like Victor have also entered India.

Fans and the public have recognised that the PBL has successfully achieved what it set out to do. On almost every front: improving its exposure and the standards of the sport, becoming success, improving the financial lot of the players, making it entertaining for non-fans,  as well as providing a bond between family and friends who watch the matches.

With such positive strides being made by the world’s largest badminton league, the 2019-2020 edition looks set to be a must watch. And indeed it will be thanks to the PBL matches being short, fast paced and with intense drama.

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