Badminton’s bid to make women players wear skirts may have been illadvised, but the sport is again seeking a “sexy” new image to bring in fans and revenue.
Even in China, where badminton has mass participation and world-beating stars, its visibility dims in the glare of more glamorous rivals like NBA basketball, football and tennis.
Now everything is on the table as badminton looks to capitalise on its wide appeal and gain a profile that will bring sponsors running and turn its players into millionaires.
New scoring, new advertising and even new shuttlecocks and court colours are being considered as badminton looks to shed its staid image and stand out in the digital age.
Owen Leed, who heads the Badminton World Federation’s (BWF) new commercial division created last year, said the sport needs cachet if it is to compete.
“That’s one of the challenges we have — how do we make the sport more glamorous in terms of the sport itself being sexier, without that being a naughty word?” he said.”
Skirting the issue
Leed preferred not to discuss the infamous move to gain popularity by making women players wear skirts, which was finally shelved in 2012 following howls of protest. But he said the players’ appearance was “all part of the picture” and would also be in focus as the sport attempts to modernise.
One of the major issues is technical — people increasingly watch sports on the move, but a fast-moving shuttlecock is almost impossible to see on a smartphone screen.
Different colour shuttlecocks and courts, and clever use of slow-motion footage, could all be part of the answer, Leed said.
“We’re looking at everything from virtual graphics to all sorts of things that we might do to present the sport. Like scoring systems, (to) make the games shorter, sharper, potentially,” he said.