Can Professional Badminton Pick Up In India?

May 20th, 2014 · 1 Comment · Badminton, Sports

Thomas Cup and Uber Cup are two prestigious events held in Badminton where players represent their country (similar to Davis Cup in Tennis).

Currently, Thomas Cup and Uber Cup Championships are held in New Delhi.

As the turn out in the stadium was very poor, there was an interesting conversation that got started in Facebook about this topic. I did express my views to my friends there, but thought it would help to provide a collective thought here on the same topic.

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These empty stands do show exactly the viewership level for such a huge event in India.

For any professional sport to succeed, there has to be acceptable viewership levels so that businesses will love to show case their products in front of the audience.

The popularity of any sport can be considered using two factors:

  1. Viewership
  2. Participation

Viewership

This refers to the number of people who watch the sport either in person or on TV or online – in other words, the people who follow the sport regularly.

Cricket is the number one sport in India in viewership levels.  Badminton comes a distant fourth after cricket, tennis and soccer. This is quite obvious because games like cricket, tennis, soccer, f1, wwf, etc have a fanatical set of followers who love it to the core and will watch them.

If you think of cricket, before IPL, you will realize that no one in India used to watch any match other than the ones Indian team played in. IPL has changed the game and made it possible to watch non-Indian matches.

With Cricket, the only problem was to find a way to convert the interested viewers, who already loved watching the Indian and international players, into more acceptable format – and hence the birth of IPL.

Similarly in tennis, even today, the popularity is only for the 4 Grand Slams and may be Davis Cup matches. Even the national championships in India, leave alone the state level matches had very poor viewership levels. Hence there is a high probability for the International League in Tennis to succeed.

With Badminton, there is very low acceptance level even for matches played by international players and BWF (Badminton World Federation) is aware of this and is trying to get to change the scoring system yet again to make it more attractive.

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Unless this is fixed, there is no way we can think of having professional badminton in India, to prosper.  This is one reason why Indian Badminton League (IBL) did not take off the way it was expected to take off.

Participation

Participation levels refer to the number of people who actually play the game on a regular basis – eg. at least once a week.

Badminton is the second most played sport in India behind cricket. At the same time, it is the fastest growing sport in India and there are quite a few reasons behind it:

  • Star performer: Every time there is a star performer in any sport, that sport see a spike in the rate of growth of the sport. Saina Nehwal has been the main cause for badminton’s growth in the recent past in India.
  • Badminton Business: Due to the aggressive growth in the Indian economy, there are indoor courts all over the country and now the parents also have the affordability levels to send the kids to coaching classes. Due to these reasons, building/renting a badminton infrastructure, conducting coaching classes, organizing corporate tournaments, selling badminton equipments, etc have become a good business model with an ecosystem around it.

These factors have led to a expectation mis match: Every parent thinks their daughter can become like Saina Nehwal! The fact that India produced Prakash Padukone in 1980, Gopi Chand in 2000 and Saina in 2010 only show that these were individual brilliances that came to the forefront and was not a result of an organized system that could generate champions.

This problem can be solved only by bringing a system in place that can generate champions repeatedly.  Once that happens, we will notice that Indians produce world champions on a consistent basis – at which point in time, the viewership levels automatically will increase.

When all the above are done as parallel activities (increasing viewership levels and popularity levels), the game will grow and it will automatically attract more businesses to be a part of it.

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