Sunday, August 25, 2013

And now comes IBL : Indian Badminton League

Five years back IPL or the Indian Premier League for Cricket was launched and I blogged my thoughts on it. This year, IBL (Indian Badminton League)  for the badminton fans has been launched with much fanfare. Though the games are miles apart, the player auction and marketing is modeled after IPL, so a comparison is inevitable at least as far as the league is concerned. Personally, IBL is much more easier for me to follow and analyze as I have played the sport for more than 30 years.

First, about my first hand experience of the IBL when the Awadhe Warriors beat Mumbai Masters 3-2 in Bangalore. We went for the 600 Rs stands. I picked this tie out of the 2 played here primarily to see Lee Chong Wei. That is, I don't feel much allegiance to Banga Beats or any other team. I did not go wrong. He was clearly a class apart when he shifted to higher gears. I also enjoyed seeing PV Sindhu taking on Tine Baun and a chance to see top 5 doubles players in action in the Mens doubles.

Good things:
We reached there by 7.30, 30mins before start but were still too late to get parking at the venue and were able to get seats only about 10 rows up or just 3rd from the top in the upper tier! But, we were pleasantly surprised with the view as it was pretty good and court did not seem too far. We could follow the action live quite well. The arrangements were done well and looked very colorful, especially considering the short time they had. Seats were new and clean. Replay screens were well placed. Scoreboard was large and visible. DJ Music and the Juggler during the breaks was a nice touch.

There were no updates or attempt by audio to inform the viewers about the matchups and updates until the games started. It was shown on the big screen but tough to read from the stands. There has to be someone talking and keeping the fans spirits up along with the DJ.  Food sold in the stands were too pricey.  A tiny box of popcorn was sold at 50Rs. Muffin at 120Rs! Pav-bhaji and Chat available outside were priced better at 50 and 30 Rs, but were not good. When outside food is not allowed, arrangements have to be made to provide reasonable choices. Parking has to be organized better as it is easy for them to estimate the number of cars. I was forced to go around the stadium and park in a unsafe place. There was a good chance the car could have been vandalized given that we were not going to be back before midnight. We were also not informed about pre-game programs that they had arranged outside the venue.

Now, my take on the whole concept. Well, to be honest, I did not think I would have such a good experience live. This is the first time I have watched badminton from the stands and it was quite enjoyable. The length of the tie was still too long in spite of the scoring changes and given the starting time of 8pm, finished just past midnight. Both my kids (12,8) dozed off towards the end. Not acceptable if they have school the following day. There should also be a block of tickets at a more affordable cost, say 100Rs, for the common man as well as to attract new fans. There were plenty of empty seats in 300Rs stands even though the game was "sold out". Not sure why.

Will it be successful? Tough to say. Right now, they are riding a high on the novelty and it all looks good. But I feel individual sports such as badminton, tennis, squash, etc are more exciting when played in the tournament format. This is because each win has much larger value and players play harder and it is easier to root for the individual. In league format, I can never relate to a particular team with its motley mix of players, some of whom I don't really care for. League format such as this works for team sports like soccer, basketball or cricket where it is easier to follow and like a team. The auction was not conducted properly with some average players fetching high prices while good contributing players paid low. That will make the stars balk at participating in future editions.

So, the question is: Would I prefer watching matches in IBL format or in a Super Series tournament (if they can  bring it) in Bangalore. I would definitely prefer the Super Series. It is much easier to root for your favorite players then and enjoy their success. IBL is fun but I cannot see it sustaining interest for a long time and without attracting serious TV ad revenue.  But, I would love to be wrong in that regard. Good luck to them!