With a trophy sized four feet and weighing 25 kilos, meant for an inter-club veterans’ tournament in Bangalore, China-based sports company Li-Ning upped the stakes in the game for India’s badminton market. The mega trophy, the likes of which are not seen even at many international tournaments, will be handed to the winners of the Malleswaram Association’s annual inter-club tournament that will see 170 players of 17 clubs in action.
The trophy was unveiled at a press meet last weekend. Li-Ning, which entered the Indian market exactly a year ago, has been steadily growing in visibility by sponsoring academies and events. The sponsorship of the Malleswaram tournament was in keeping with the policy to associate with smaller events, instead of concentrating exclusively on high profile tournaments as big brands are expected to do. Ram Malhotra, Head of Indian Market for Li-Ning, conceded that it was a conscious decision to associate with events of this level. “There is immediate focus (on the brand) at club-level tournaments,” Malhotra says. “It’s easy to organize marketing in that area, and to get attention and exposure. (In contrast) The amount of space given to national tournaments in newspapers is ten times lesser compared to cricket. We’re also looking at corporate and university-level events. We don’t look at it as expense; we look at it as investment.
“The reason we made such a big trophy was that, as a rolling trophy, it would be a one-time investment. This is one of the biggest club-level tournaments in Bangalore, and the exposure will be good.” Although Li-Ning is a multi-sport brand, it has decided to pitch its badminton range first because of the impressive growth of the sport in India.
Malhotra detailed the company’s growing interest in the Indian market. “Three years ago, the organized sports market in India was Rs 1000 crore. Now it is between Rs 1500 to 1700 crore,” he said. “Badminton is the number two sport to cricket in India. Li-Ning wants to grow the sport in India because we see an opportunity here.”
Although Malhotra did not have an exact figure on the badminton market because a substantial share is in the unaccounted/ unorganised sector, the growth of the sport has been too obvious to ignore. While five years ago there were around 40 courts in Bangalore, the number has grown to around 185 today. A sales manager, who was with Yonex earlier and is now with Li-Ning, estimates that an incredible one lakh rackets are sold each month in Bangalore alone. “Of course, many of these are the smaller brands and there’s no way to estimate their sales,” he said. “But there’s no doubt that at least one lakh rackets are sold every month.” Even assuming that a fair percentage of these are sub-standard, that figure still means that around sixty to seventy thousand new players are being added every month in Bangalore alone. Most of these might still be recreational players who amuse themselves at parks or apartment complexes, but that is still an impressive number.
P Kumar, distributor for Li-Ning in Karnataka, says badminton has grown by 30 percent over the last three years. “Each dealer in Bangalore does business of around Rs 15 lakh a month in badminton alone,” he says. “Badminton is second only to cricket.”