Are leagues the way forward for a multi-sporting nation?
India, the land of different cultures, the home to 130 crore people, follows a household habit, the habit of watching sports. For a long time, a single sport was the backbone of the country but the times, they are a-changing.
Cricket found its roots in England yet it has moved on to become a crowd favourite in the Asian subcontinent. The viewership of cricket in India is unparalleled and it seems a far-fetched dream for other sports to grow in cricket's shadows.
The arrival of different leagues has suddenly and certainly helped other sports to grow in India. In 2008, with cricket's popularity at its peak, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) came up with a business model in the form of the Indian Premier League (IPL). India garnered the attention of the cricketing world, the BCCI made a lot of profit, cricket grew and other non-existent sports faded.
But is the trend changing with time?
Back in the day, only a handful of people watched sports other than cricket. For other sports to excel, somebody needed to go beyond the imagination. The economic aspect had to be foreseen and the jittery had to be subsided.
The incredible idea struck and leagues become a regular part of Indian sports. The advent of the Indian Super League, Pro Wrestling League, Premier Badminton League and Pro Kabaddi League meant success for sports in India.
Without proper facilities and infrastructure, the sportspersons moved ahead. The 2016 Rio Olympics witnessed PV Sindhu's heroics, Sakshi Malik's courage and Dipa Karmarkar's never-say-never spirit.
Time progressed and Indian badminton prospered with excellence. The faith of the people was on a new high as PV Sindhu's encountered with Carolina Marin saw an unprecedented rise in television ratings.
On 21 October 2013, the Indian Super League set its foot down in the small world of Indian football. The franchise system had now gained acceptance and Indian football was ready to transcend into something extraordinary albeit the process is still in progress.
Indian football fans cheered as celebrities looked on. The ownership of the franchises was taken up mostly by celebrities who wanted football to grow in India. Little did they know that the tale of Indian football will be one for the ages, the journey to the top 100 will be remembered, forever.
Come 26 July 2014, another innovative league came into the limelight. The Pro Kabaddi League came into existence and the country became accustomed to learning new names. Anup Kumar, Ajay Thakur, Rahul Chaudhary all became regular names in India.
In 2016, the Indian team captured the World Cup for the third consecutive time. The league gave Kabaddi a new ray of hope, the sport was slowly and steadily moved out of villages and the youngsters in cities were now watching and playing it with keen interest.
The Premier Badminton League had started in 2013 but poor television ratings and a busy international schedule meant that the league would not be conducted for the next two years.
In 2016, PBL made a comeback with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar as its brand ambassador. In the presence of some elite shuttlers, the young Indian players had a chance to learn. India's success in badminton speaks volumes of the success of the league. New players emerged as Indian badminton found the direction to sail on.
What's next for Sports in India?
There are barriers, hundreds and thousands of them. To overcome them, the sportspersons need support, from the government, from the spectators, and from millions who get glued to their television sets during a cricket match. These leagues have helped Indian players to learn from the more experienced bunch of players. The advantage can well and truly be seen in the international arena.
The ingredients to a multi-sporting nation are complex yet simple, it requires the viewers to shift from the preferred sport to a relatively new sport, the process will eventually take place and when it does we will be there, slowly but surely.
What do you think is the future of sports viewership in India? Tell us in the comments below!