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Can Badminton Become India's Next Big Commercial Sport in 2013?

2012 was a great year for Indian badminton and 2013 will be bigger and better, reckons Mahesh Bhupathi

Published: Dec 22, 2012 06:11:22 AM IST
Updated: Dec 22, 2012 09:25:07 AM IST
Can Badminton Become India's Next Big Commercial Sport in 2013?
Image: Bazuki Muhammad / Reuters
Gopi’s badminton academy and Olympic Gold Quest—which Prakash co-founded—has created many Olympic success stories across various sports, including badminton

As a national interest, badminton is on its way up and as a sport, it is on its way to becoming a commercial success in 2013. According to Mahesh Bhupathi, Indian badminton has a great combination of things going in its favour. The tennis star follows badminton closely both as an athlete and as owner and MD of Globosport, the sports and entertainment media consultancy.

“First, for any sport to be successful in India, you need to have role models,” he says.

He points out that a sport needs to have successful players, who occupy top international rankings, and India certainly has such names both at the senior and junior levels. “Not only does India have senior Olympians like Saina Nehwal and Parupalli Kashyap, but plenty of prodigious young talent is coming up the ranks too.”

Seventeen-year-olds C Rohit Yadav and Pusarla Venkata Sindhu are ranked ninth and seventh on the junior world men’s and women’s lists, respectively. Successful youngsters are marketable role models for kids to take up the sport.

As the Olympics demonstrated, the Indian national team is a force to be reckoned with. Though India is fighting for a spot in this year’s top 10, the team still has a long way to go before it can catch up with China at the pinnacle of the Badminton World Federation rankings.

Second, credit must go to both Pullela ‘Gopi’ Gopichand and Prakash Padukone for putting the systems in place and laying strong foundations.

“Gopi’s badminton academy has trained some of India’s top talents like Saina Nehwal; and Olympic Gold Quest—which Prakash co-founded—has created many Olympic success stories across various sports, including badminton.”

Nehwal, in particular, has reached a level where she can drive the development of the sport commercially in India and her international success is a much-needed catalyst for badminton’s increasing popularity amongst sports fans.

Bhupathi understands that support of fans is essential for any sport to become commercially viable and he saw how the entire nation got behind the team during the Olympics. He feels that Saina can really spearhead the growth of this sport.

Though society will look for a benchmark to evaluate this growth, it’s hard to compare badminton and other sports in India. Bhupathi also points out that even racquet sports like badminton and tennis, for example, are two different prospects entirely with different sets of audiences.

“Tennis saw its growth in India in the late 90s, when Leander and I were playing,” he says, “Today, it is one of the most popular sports in the country.”

Indeed, India possesses brilliant youngsters like Sumit Nagal—who qualified for the Junior US Open at the age of 15. “Watch out for him in the next four years,” Bhupathi advises, “He is a special talent and his development was possible because of the growing popularity of tennis.” His message is that the same can happen with badminton but one needs talented young athletes to hog the limelight.

The comparison with cricket is inevitable but it is unfair to set those standards of success—in terms of both popularity and revenues—for badminton.

Cricket in India is an anomaly. Cricket is what drives pretty much the entire sports market in the brand space, just like Bollywood does in the entertainment space. Other sports like tennis, badminton and hockey occupy their own little spaces. Bhupathi feels that badminton’s place in the Indian sporting pantheon will be redefined as the country develops. “It will grow as the economy grows.”

The interest expressed by corporations for the Indian Badminton League is a positive sign. There are 18 interested parties, which indicate there’s money waiting to come into the sport that will make it a viable career option for more and more shuttlers across the country.

In terms of fan following, he doesn’t feel it will mirror the European football model where fans are brought together solely on local affiliations. In an Indian context, it’s not necessarily about regions. With badminton, it will be more about teams and franchises and, most importantly, about how they are built.

Saina Nehwal, for example, is from Hyderabad but could play for Kerala and still retain her high fan following. The point he makes is that people will eventually get behind their favourite players.

2012 was a great year for Indian badminton where the foundations to propel one of India’s most widely played games into a top national sport was built. If badminton continues its journey upwards, 2013 will be even better.

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(This story appears in the 11 January, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Karandeep Nagpal

    KKR- The SRK way :) Who would have thought that KNIGHTS who have spend their lives saving the King in the game of chess will do it the other way around twice in 3 years in the game of cricket against The Superkings and the Kings. KKR’s success in the past 3 seasons has been a fairytale story just like SRK’s in Bollywood. After 4 seasons things perfectly linked to the dialogue Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost.. And now when 2 times in 3 years they have crossed the line, SRK can proudly say Happy’s Endings. KKR in season 1 was the team who could not make it to the top 4 and yet was the only team in profits. SRK once said ‘Kabhi kabhi kuch jeetne k liye kuch haarna padta hai, aur haarkar jeetne waale ko baazigar kehte hain’ and at that time it seemed like KKR took his dialogues way too seriously. The first 4 seasons somehow turned out to be like a ‘Paheli’ for SRK and KKR. Nobody knew what’s going wrong. But what was good that they accepted the fact that ‘Success and Failure are both a part of life, both are not permanent. ‘ Then came season 5 which was as good as SRK movies throughout his career. The best part about it was the celebrations at the end of the tournament. SRK was found doing summersaults, applauding almost everybody around, apologizing to the Mumbai Cricket Association and most importantly spreading love. In season 6, KKR were back to the Korbo-Lorbo part and the Jeetbo part was again missing. KKR well understood that the story is revolving around Kabhi Khushi, Kabhi Gham. When it comes to winning, Sidhu Paaji once said ‘Maan lo toh haar hai, Thaan lo toh jeet hai’ and KKR focused more on the latter part of his dialogue. IPL7 Final resembled Veer-Zaara story, so many people were found talking about the same and the story went the same way. After so many meetings in the earlier seasons, Veer and Zaara finally met at the end. Even here both the teams won- Veer won the cup and Zaara won the hearts. KKR after an initial struggle were back to the ‘Jeetbo’ part and they showed the world that Winning takes Talent, to repeat takes character. Celebrations and SRK go hand in hand. All through the post match presentation ceremony millions were found waiting when SRK would come on camera. It was an unlike SRK style but even then when SRK came wearing K11P t-shirt, he stuck to his basics and won millions hearts with his words- “I am not wearing this t-shirt because the team belongs to Preity but because K11P was the best team of the tournament.” All in all, KKR’s fairytale in the past 3 seasons has been like their Owner’s success. Lets just hope that we don’t get to see something like Ra-One soon. #Korbo_Lorbo_Jeetbo #Believe #Loyal_KKR_Fan Article by- Karandeep Nagpal 91-9988181632

    on Jun 3, 2014