New Delhi: The fifth season of Premier Badminton League (PBL) will begin on January 20 next year with seven teams taking part in the tournament this year after Delhi Dashers pulled out and Ahmedabad Smash Masters had their license cancelled.
Apart from the two teams pulling out, some of the league's biggest names in Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth, Carolina Marin and Viktor Axelsen are also set to give the tournament a miss to focus on Olympic qualification.
Despite a host of changes, there is one thing that has not changed in the PBL for the upcoming season and that is the format. For the fifth season running, the tournament will have two men's singles, one women's singles, one mixed doubles and one men's doubles. Women's Doubles still did not make the cut.
While women's doubles category does not feature at all for the organisers, there is no parity between men's and women's singles as well. While the format sees two men's singles being played, there is only one women's singles.
The organisers of the tournament, Sportzlive, told News18.com that they are driven by the market and hence, do not yet see that level of demand for women's doubles.
"Currently there are about 5 men's singles players in top 20 and are icons. If things change, we are very open to changing the format. The viewership of singles right now in India is higher than doubles whereas globally it is the same. In India, only now with Satwik-Chirag and Ashwini-Sikki, doubles has started becoming a force. We can even increase the number of matches, it is all a process," Atul Pande, Managing Director Sportzlive told News18.com.
The other reason given by the organisers for the disparity between men's and women's singles is the quality of the Indian pool in the two disciplines. The organisers assessed that the overall depth in India in men's singles is much greater than women's singles.
"It's also linked to the quality of players, the quality of pool should be bigger. Men's singles, there are more players who attract fans because of more competition. Apart from the quality globally, I need to look at the quality of the pool in India. Today my pool in men's singles in India is much larger, almost 6-7 players are or have been in the top 25. So I need to have the quality of players. Unfortunately, at this time the gap in women's singles after Saina, Sindhu is too much, said Executive Director Prasad Mangipudi.
PBL is looking to develop a robust financial model as they look to "develop the badminton ecosystem" in the country. The organisers said that they have been working with the team owners to reduce the overall losses for all of them and find different ways to help them break even.
"We want to make sure that everyone in this ecosystem is reasonably invested and can see a return on the investments they make because it is a long-term thing. We are now even trying to build a franchise around it," Pande said.
Pande added, "Because there is a limited supply to asset, there is a value around it. For example, there is only one badminton team from Chennai so if anyone has to buy, has to buy in premium. That perspective, the model is working. If somebody wants to exit, he will get a price and exit."
Here are some of the numbers and major changes in the financial management of the league and the teams:
- The auction purse has been brought down from Rs 2.75 crores to Rs 2 crores.
- Three seasons ago, the teams were running on Rs 7-7.5 crores but it has now come down to Rs 5 crores.
- Earlier, matches used to be held in the venues of all the teams while now it's held in half the places.
- Secondary investment has come in for the teams. For eg, the Bengaluru team has changed hands and now Chennai has done the same at a significant premium.
- The central pool of money is expected to get larger when the tournament's contract with the broadcasters is renewed next year.
- For the first time this year, PBL will be shown in 40 countries to regenerate more revenues from television coverage.
- Teams are being asked to generate their own content and create other ways of revenue, like merchandising. Hyderabad Hunters have started their own merchandise.
- Bengaluru Raptors, Hyderabad Hunters and Pune Acers are now starting their own chain of academies to increase value in the state.
Mangipudi believes that PBL is still an evolving model and despite all the challenges, "the trend is upwards" for the tournament. "Today in India, badminton equals PBL. Otherwise, most players play abroad, PBL gives people a chance to see these stars live," Mangipudi concluded.