The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and Nimbus Sports on Tuesday announced an ambitious World Series Hockey with prize money of more than $1 million that will feature domestic and international players and will be an annual event spread over 10 Indian cities.
Indian national team players have already signed up for the league. A host of top players like Sandeep Singh, Adrian D'Souza, Dhananjay Mahadik and Sardara Singh were present during the announcement.
The prize money for the tournament will be more than $1 million initially and players can make Rs 40-50 lakh annually from guaranteed fees, endorsements and performance incentives. Players will initialy be contracted for three years.
Teams will be owned by corporate franchises and players will be allocated on the basis of draft picks. Team owners will have to shell out running expenses, commitment to hockey development and commitment to infrastructure development.
The league is likely to run into trouble with Hockey India (HI), which is the body recognised by the International Hockey Federation (FIH). HI had threatened to take action against players who take part in any IHF tournament.
Around 40 domestic players have already signed up for the league that is expected to kick off in November or December next year. The league will feature 100 matches held over 10 weeks. "We are in talks with foreign players through agents," IHF president R.K. Shetty said.
“This joint initiative between IHF and Nimbus will reinvigorate our national game while injecting additional funds for the development of hockey.
"Nimbus Sport is one of Asia’s largest sports management companies. With this association, we are confident that Indian hockey is set for its biggest ever boost. World Series Hockey is a win-win situation for everyone as it will bring back hockey fans and make them cheer the national sport and local talent,” Shetty added.
He said that the structure of the league is different from the Premier Hockey League, which enjoyed fair amount of success 2005-2008.
Harish Thawani, executive chairman of Nimbus Communications Limited, said the event is only the first in a number of initiatives that have been planned for hockey.
"Nimbus Sport shall team up with IHF and will organize, manage, develop, produce, stage, promote and market the league. It will also market all broadcasting and all other electronic media rights, in connection with the league," according to a statement from Nimbus, which is also the official broadcaster of the Indian cricket board.
Thawani said no player can be stopped from participating in the league.
"IHF is recognised by the sports ministry and infrastructure like stadiums are owned by IHF. Stadiums in Mumbai and Bangalore are owned by the Mumbai Hockey Association and Karnataka State Hockey Association respectively and both associations are part of IHF," said Thawani.
"We are willing to release players for national camps and international tournaments. The players are free to represent the country. After this, I don't think HI should object to players becoming part of World Series Hockey. If it does so, then it amounts to restraint on trade."
Shetty said they want HI to back the league.
"We are not fighting with HI. All we are saying that this is beneficial for the game and the players. It will also help the hockey infrastructure in the country," he said.
The league will be an annual event and a 10 team competition in its first year and will be played using a city based model. The entire event will take place on 'home and away' basis culminating into multi header play offs. Around 60 international players would be picked up by the American style draft system.
"It will not be cattle like auction as we see in other leagues," Thawani said in an indirect reference to the Indian Premier League.
Nimbus has struck the deal for 15 years and will bear "the cost of the league as well as provide IHF with an annual fee for the development of hockey amounting to over Rs.30 crores over the period of the contract or a share of league profits, whichever is higher."
The first edition of World Series Hockey will take place between November/December 2011 and February 2012, will feature upto 100 matches and upto 250 hockey players from India and around the world. Each match of the league will be produced and broadcast live on multiple media platforms, including television.