It was the Hockey India League that gave a platform for young Indians to rub shoulders with the best hockey players in the world. But after five successive seasons (2013-17), the league had to stop due to a litany of problems.
The most common and biggest problem was the commercial viability and sustainability of the league. Most of the franchise owners were running their teams at heavy losses, which eventually forced the league to shut down.
It was not until India’s bronze-medal haul at the Tokyo Olympics that the topic of the revival of the Hockey India League was revived. Hockey India took nearly a year to put things in place to bring the league back to life again.
Owing to the financial problems in the last HIL, this time Hockey India has signed commercial partners who will lay the foundation stone for the new, to-be-revamped Hockey India League.
On April 10, 2023, Hockey India announced Big Bang Media Ventures Pvt. Ltd. as its exclusive commercial and marketing partner agency for the league.
Sportskeeda had an exclusive interview with Mr. Ravneet Singh Gill, co-founder, MD & CEO at Big Bang Media Ventures, to discuss, at length, the Hockey India League.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Q. Why Hockey?
Ans – There are primarily two team sports where India can become a World Champion, “cricket and hockey.”
The various leagues happening in India have become extremely fashionable these days. When choosing a sport for a league, we need to look at various factors:
- First and foremost, if it is commercially viable?
To check if it can be commercially viable, we need to see:
- What is the kind of appeal that it holds for broadcasters, sponsors, and general audience.
- Is it a mainstream sport and is it scalable? How many people play it in India and how many people follow it passionately?
Thanks to the Hockey India League, the quality of players that India produced in those five-odd years has been extraordinary. It is evident from the fact that India went on to win the 2016 Junior Men’s Hockey World Cup after a long time.
As seen in the case of IPL, to be able to play against the best in the world, you need to play with the best in the world. When you get the best coaches, best trainers and best players to train and play with the young players of your country, the future is definitely going to be bright.
So, if you look at all these factors, hockey ticks all the boxes, and that is what interested us when the conversation started a year ago with Hockey India.
Q. What is the role of Big Bang Media Ventures in the revamp of this league?
Ans – We are the commercial rights marketing partners of Hockey India for the Hockey India League.
- We will plan the entire marketing strategy for the league.
- We will help to sell all the franchises.
- All the sponsors and advertising of the league will be done by us.
- And lastly, we will help Hockey India sell the media rights for the league.
Q. The last HIL failed because most of the team owners incurred heavy losses. Even PKL and ISL, despite being very popular leagues, are reportedly not commercially sustainable. Team owners are still incurring losses.
What are you going to do to make the Hockey India League commercially sustainable for all stakeholders?
Ans – What Indian sport was in 2017 and vis-à-vis what Indian sport is today are two different things. There was no OTT, and the power of social media wasn’t as strong as it is now. Obviously, sports didn’t have the level of importance it has now.
For the first time in India, even the government has gotten behind sports and it is clearly visible with initiatives like Fit India and Khelo India. So, the hype has been huge for sports, and many kids are getting interested to pursue sports as a career.
We have already presented a commercially viable financial model to the executive board of Hockey India which they have approved. And, if the HIL is revamped in a proper manner, I don’t see any reason why it will not succeed and on the back of it, India should become the No. 1 hockey-playing nation in the world in the not-too-distant future.
I met the President of FIH in chennai during the Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai and his view was that the HIL will be transformative not just for Indian hockey, but for the sport itself. He was strongly supportive of the league & very confident about its impact & success.
Q. What are the major things a sports league must focus on?
Ans: There are three things a league must focus on:
- The quality of the gameplay has to be top-notch.
- The standing of the franchise owners and their vision must be of the highest quality, because that determines a lot about the league, about how the other stakeholders get involved, whether they are sponsors or broadcasters, and Hockey India is paying a lot of attention to this.
- The league should be commercially viable.
If we have the right set of franchise owners, I believe that will go a long way in ensuring that the league is successful, both from a playing perspective and commercially.
Q. Do you aim at bringing in big franchise owners like the Ambanis and the Adanis who are vastly experienced in this field, or are you looking at team owners who are into smaller leagues and just starting out? What’s your thought process in this regard?
Ans: I don’t think we have any deliberate strategy to go one way or the other. For us, first and foremost we need to see if the group has been involved with sport. At the end of the day, you need to have passion for the sport you are investing in because you virtually nurture a franchise.
Prospective franchise owners need to have an affinity for sports and that will ensure that they put in money and work at the grassroots to take that particular sport to the next level in at least their geography or catchment area.
And lastly, these have to be people who are of high standing, because hockey is emotionally the national sport of India and I think there are enough people who feel very strongly about the sport and most importantly have the resources to be able to support a league who will make sure that the league is always in a state of well-being and a source of national pride.
Q. So you already have a set parameter for franchise owners on what kind of companies you want on-board. Do you have similar parameters for the choice of cities that the teams need to be based in? Last time, the crowd turnout in Tier 1 cities like Delhi and Mumbai was very poor; what has your thought process on that been like?
Ans – The whole motive behind getting back the Hockey India League is to reposition hockey. We need to make sure that hockey is aspirational and gets that X-factor back.
We want to make sure that people follow the players, people go to the stadiums to support their teams, as it is one of the fastest sports and it’s such a spectacle to watch hockey at the stadium. You really feel that the action is happening right beside you.
It’s just that this generation hasn’t seen Indian hockey playing at its best and probably that is the reason they don’t relate to it as older generations do, and we really need to collectively (all stakeholders involved) take hockey to a level where people feel good about identifying with hockey.
We need to rebuild that fandom around hockey. So, we have got a lot of interest from prospective franchise owners and each one of them has assured us that they will put in all their effort to pack the stadiums for their home games.
I feel last time HIL could have been marketed better, which could have probably gotten the crowds as well. This time Hockey India is very mindful of that and that’s why they are putting in a large marketing budget, and we will be preparing the marketing plans around it.
Talking about bigger cities, I agree that hockey will compete with a lot of other events from a spectator point of view but I feel if we market the league in the right way and if we are able to reposition hockey, then I am sure the crowd turnout will be outstanding.
The Asian Champions Trophy was held in Chennai and every day was houseful.
Q. State governments like Odisha and Tamil Nadu have been very proactive in promoting hockey in the recent past. In the last edition, Odisha also had a team in the HIL. Do you think there is any difference when a state government owns a team and when a private owner/corporate house owns a team?
Ans: It’s the intent behind it. Odisha has embraced hockey like nobody else. Most of the developments that we have seen in hockey in the last few years have happened because of the support of the Odisha government, and hopefully, there will be a few more state governments who will come forward to support other sports, taking inspiration from Odisha.
When a state government supports a team, they give it a certain legitimacy and sanctity. I think the support of Odisha for Hockey is exactly that.
You could also have a corporate individual buying a team who is committed to the sport and has all the resources and also knows how to run a team.
If resources are not a constraint and they have the same intent, I feel that be it a state government or a private owner, it won’t make much of a difference.
Q. How are you going to sell the media rights, given that it is one of the most crucial parts of the league?
Ans – We haven’t got to it yet as our proposal was accepted by the Executive Board only last week. But it will be fair to assume that it will be almost similar way as it happens for other leagues.
Q. You are also planning to start the Women’s HIL simultaneously on the lines of the Men’s HIL. Do you think this is a risk in the first year, given that it took IPL 15 years to start a Women’s League?
Ans: We will have 8 Men’s teams and 4 Women’s teams. People’s perception of Women’s sports has changed a lot. I watched the finals of the Women's Premier League at CCI. The atmosphere was just unbelievable. The effort that everyone has put in to take the women’s game to the next level is truly commendable.
We should stop getting defensive about Women’s sports. Our Indian Women’s Hockey Team came fourth at the 2020 Olympics & narrowly missed a medal. So, I have no doubt about the women’s league being a blowout success.
Let me tell you that most of the prospective franchise owners have asked about whether there is going to be a women’s league & expressed strong interest in acquiring a women’s franchise. Hockey India has always been strongly supportive of this idea.
Hockey India League likely to restart right after Paris Olympics
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