Hockey India League has done what was seemingly impossible. It made a sport besides cricket look glamorous to the masses and have a hit league in India as well. F1 has had success too but Formula One is not really a sport which a common man can practice. At best, we end up racing Maruti 800s against each other which are often outpaced by pedestrians. Hockey as a sport has a much wider appeal and doubly so in India. Our country has a rich history in hockey and this league will serve as a trigger for revival of our past glory. Here are five ways in which Hockey India League will serve to better the sport in India -
The best way players can improve is by facing excellent competition. Recall the USA’s basketball players. After Kevin Durant, Russel Westbrook and Andre Igoudala represented USA in 2010 FIBA World Championships, they returned back home as changed players. Their game took an exponential leap. “In 2010, just playing under Coach K and his staff, they gave us a lot of confidence just to be ourselves.” – Kevin Durant said. Competition from a strong opposition brings out the best and the worst in us and lets the cream of the crop float up to the top. With each team in the Hockey India League featuring close to 14 Indian players and 10 foreign players, it gives ample room for our players to be in the squad while rubbing shoulders with the best players from abroad. The franchise system creates new teams and puts players outside their comfort zone and forces them to adjust to new playing conditions. In your national/state team, there is a set hierarchy and an established pecking order. In a new franchise team, every slot is up for grabs. Although the players with better reputation are still at the top, there is a lot more room for new players to prove themselves.
Glamour sells. “Jo dikhta hai wo bikta hai,” says former Indian striker commentator with the HIL, Deepak Thakur. “The hockey stars and playing methods are the same. But sport today needs aggressive marketing and neat packaging. And the HIL is doing that to the hilt.” Back in the good old days, something like this would be promoted on DD Sports with their Before Christ jingle and grainy pixels. This league is being marketed with glitz and glamour. Perception is everything and someone flicking through the channels and switching to Hockey India League will sit up and take notice. And that will improve the perception of the game as a whole.
“More people watched the first six games of the Hockey India League than the population of Holland!” Five times World Player of the Year Australian Jamie Dwyer tweeted. Addition of international superstars adds a new dimension to the potential of marketing the league. All of a sudden, the game is not just in your backyard, the world’s best and the brightest are involved and that brings an international spotlight and the attention of global brands towards the game. That allows for more potential sponsors along with the spotlight.
Team loyalty is promoted by fans who wear the team colours. Walk across the street and come across someone in an Allen Iverson jersey, and I’ll take them out for a drink. Walk and see someone with a Sardar Singh jersey and one will wonder which Singh is being referred to here? Akshay Kumar in Singh is King? Manmohan Singh? That’s how unknown our hockey stars are in India. With increased visibility of their merchandise and their self on TV, it will give a face to our stars and allow the common man to identify with them. It helps that the bulk of contracts to produce merchandise for the Hockey India League’s teams is in the hands of local manufacturers in India.
“Context shapes content.” as Rodney Mullen said in a TED talk. He’s the best street skater in the world and he said how with every trick he invents and throws out in the skating community, it’s taken on by someone else and they put their own spin on it and then Rodney watches the community take shape and change. It’s like a lake which constantly takes shape and changes with the addition of every thing being put in it. The Hockey India League is making waves. It is showing that something besides cricket can succeed in India. It is setting new paths and changing conventions. It’s establishing new channels of promoting the sport. It came in the wake of the IPL and tried to follow its model with success. In future, some other hockey league or some other sports league may crop up which would take what worked in this league and put it together in a different way. And that will allow new leagues and other endeavours to prosper.
Hockey India League is making waves in this pond, which until now only housed one humongous whale going by the name of cricket, and is now proving to be no more than just a cricket in a pond.