It was like turning away for a moment and missing the most important smash in the game. Those who were delayed by heavy morning rain on Monday and reached the Indian Badminton League’s player auction venue a few minutes late, saw the prize bids - for women’s world No 3, Saina Nehwal, and Malaysian world No 1, Lee Chong Wei - had already been settled.
Badminton became the latest sport to join the franchise model in India pioneered by the Indian Twenty20 league. It paled in terms of cricket’s financial muscle and sheer pull, but the ambition to cash in on the buzz caused by Saina’s Olympic bronze medal success was evident.
There was much in contrast between the grand IPL auctions and the IBL version. The $120,000 Hyderabad paid for Saina and the $135,000 - the highest bid - for which Lee was snapped up by Mumbai paled in comparison to the highest bid before the first IPL -- $1.5 million Chennai paid for MS Dhoni.
Unlike the sanitised IPL auction hall, the media flocked into the arena where owners were bunched around six tables as a London-based auctioneer rattled on despite struggling with the Asian names, wrapping up proceedings in four hours.
The birth pangs of the auction, postponed thrice, were evident. The organisers listed Lee Chong Wei as an India player! But unlike the tense cricket purchases, there were no frantic calls to the bosses. After all, the bids went up only by $1,000.
There was no Shah Rukh Khan too. Telugu action hero, Akkineni Nagarjuna, co-owner of the Mumbai franchise with former India cricket captain Sunil Gavaskar, exchanged pleasantries with a fellow owner and tennis star Sania Mirza, roped in as brand ambassador and seated at the adjacent table.
Bangalore coach, U Vimal Kumar said, “Thanks to Saina, badminton is in the news. A few countries like India, Japan, Chinese Taipei and Thailand are making good strides. Of course, the question is how franchises will make money, TV revenue is also zero.”
The annual franchise fee is reportedly around R1.5 crore, a far cry from the IPL millions. Abhijit Sarkar of Sahara, owners of Pune Warriors who own the Lucknow franchise, said: “We spend far less than IPL, and badminton is growing and cricket fatigue should bring more fans to stadiums.”
Rifle shooter, Gagan Narang, bronze medallist at the London Olympics, was a keen spectator. “I would like to get a shooting league started also, if all goes well and the federation lends support,” he told HT.
Brawl under investigation
Bodin Issara’s on-court punch-up with his former doubles partner Maneepong Jongjit, who will play for the Lucknow Warriors, during Sunday’s Canada Open final is being investigated by the BWF. “The men’s doubles final ended ... with a black card being issued to Thailand pair, Bodin Issara and Pakkawat Vilailak, who were disqualified,” the BWF said in a statement on Monday. “The events surrounding the conclusion of this match will be thoroughly investigated by the BWF... and this matter will be referred to the Disciplinary Committee.”