HomeSports 2.0Sports Leagues in India: Commercialisation & Its Impact on Indian Sports
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Sports Leagues in India: Commercialisation & Its Impact on Indian Sports

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Sports leagues have become a prominent feature of the Indian sports landscape, revolutionizing the way sports are organized, played, and consumed. In recent years, India has witnessed a remarkable surge in the popularity and commercialization of sports leagues across various disciplines. From cricket to football, kabaddi to badminton, these leagues have not only captivated audiences but have also transformed the sporting ecosystem in the country.

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Rise of Sports Leagues in India

 Sports Leagues in India | Indian Premier League | PKL | ISL | KreedOn
Image Source: India Sports Pages

The advent of leagues like the Indian Premier League (IPL), Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), Indian Super League (ISL), and others has brought a new dimension to the sporting arena in India.  The Indian Premier League (IPL) was the right step forward to take cricket to the next level. The success of the (IPL) on its incubation in 2008 fueled the imagination of
investors in India and provided them with a template that could be used to grow, promote
and commercialize other sports in India. Of course, India decided to blindly copy &
paste the template on to other sports without understanding or appreciating the nuances
and on ground realities.

Evaluating the Promised Renaissance and Unmet Expectations

Leagues promised a renaissance in Indian Sports. Between 2007-12, when the league
template started being implemented across other sports in India, the on-ground realities
of sports such as Kabaddi, Wrestling, Tennis, Hockey & Football was in stark contrast to
that of cricket. The Federations were toothless, we lacked iconic stars, India was not a
a dominant team in international tournaments, there was no talent pipeline and the
awareness or the grass root network was non-existent.

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But of course, there was passion in pockets but no sustainable future for youngsters entering the sport. India needs a framework for sports development as below:

Sports Leagues in India | Indian Premier League | PKL | KreedOn

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Rather than developing this framework for sports (as above) from the grass root up and simultaneously strengthen the institutional structure around the sport, India decided to immediately adopt the league format as a way to grow & promote sports. I guess the thinking involved was if an iconic platform such as a league is created at the top,
youngsters would foresee a future in the sport as a viable career option.

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This commercialization of the sport would in turn fuel the development of the sports
ecosystem, over time, through a trickle-down effect. Essentially, growing demand would
automatically take care of the supply side.

Unfortunately, this was wishful thinking. And therefore these leagues have only been partially successful in meeting their objectives. Leagues are only one element of sports development. There is an entire universe of choices available as highlighted below. Gamekeepers, sports promoters and corporates have to pick and chose their spots in order to create a sustainable impact on sports.

Sports Leagues in India | Indian Premier League | KreedOn

No one can deny that the leagues have created some careers, developed the sports
ecosystem, created employment, brought corporate funding into sports, popularized
sports and build an audience base, but the larger ‘BIG BANG Impact’ has been missed. Or
maybe we were expecting too much from the league format.

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How Does Indian Sports, Move Forward

Having now adopted the league format as a model for sports development (16 leagues
incubated – some successful, some active, some defunct & new ones germinating), the
only option before the gamekeepers of the sport is to ensure that vertical and horizontal
interlinkages are created to strengthen the ability to deliver holistic and measurable

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Revisit the league intent – Focus on Sports Education & Awareness

If the ‘Big Objective’ is broad-basing, structured efforts have to be initiated to grow
game at the grass root level. Sports have to be integrated at the school and the local
community level by spreading awareness, creating competitive interaction platforms &
building engagement and stickiness with on ground audiences.

For this to happen, the federation, league owners & credible grass root operators have to come together with corporate support to make this happen. In addition, Khelo India has to extend its focus towards the 13 – 17 age group. Programs, schemes, and efforts need to be coordinated and streamlined to deliver specific results.

Re-evaluate the league success factors

If the ‘Big Reason’ is to strengthen the vision for sports development, the Federation &
the league owners have to work together to plot a long-term game plan. Isolated
measures have not delivered any credible impact on the sport.

And if the ‘Big Reason’ is the league commercial structure, league owners have to find a way to allocate some long-term money (from one pocket to another) towards grass root development programs to build a talent pipeline. Too much money is spent on buying
international athletes and rationalizing this, maybe one option.

Build and strengthen missing links

If the ‘Big Factor’ is developing a talent pipeline and building a robust feeder system,
institutional reform within sports has to be planned. While we need coaching factories to
a broad base, we also need personalized & specialized coaching efforts to create
performance excellence. Access to sports facilities for the passionate has to be costeffective.

Our policies need to encourage participation. Emerging athletes across sports
have to be encouraged by the federations, provided financial security and actively
adopted by corporates and brands.

Vertical and Horizontal integration

Vertical alignment between the various levels of play (league, international, national,
regional, community & grass root) and horizontal integration of services (playing access,
equipment, coaching & performance centres) have to be created. All round visibility
creation for the sport and its ecosystem has to be activated in order for sports to
become mainstream. Unless this happens, athletes will continue to slip through the
cracks. And our efforts and outcomes will be sub-optimal.

The leagues were never meant to broaden the sports base, drive social
community impact and create vertical & horizontal linkages, such is the reality. At this
point of time, rather than fight it, and blame one another, the prudent way forward is to
now make it work in India’s benefit.

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Impact on Indian Sports

Sports Leagues in India | Indian Premier League | KreedOn
Image Source: The Indian Express

Positive Effects 

Improved Infrastructure: Commercialization of sports leagues in India has led to significant investments in sports infrastructure. Stadiums, training facilities, and sports academies have been developed or upgraded to meet international standards, providing athletes with top-notch facilities to enhance their performance.

Increased Opportunities for Athletes: Sports leagues have opened up new avenues for athletes to showcase their talent and pursue a professional career. They offer a platform for both established players and emerging talents to gain recognition, secure contracts, and earn a livelihood through sports.

Economic Growth: Commercialized sports leagues contribute to economic growth by generating revenue streams, creating employment opportunities, and attracting investments from corporate sponsors and advertisers. They stimulate sectors such as hospitality, tourism, media, and merchandise, thus boosting the overall economy.

Negative Consequences 

Player Exploitation: Commercial interests in sports leagues can lead to player exploitation, such as unfair contracts, inadequate compensation, and excessive workload. Players may face physical and mental strain due to the demands of a highly competitive league, compromising their well-being.

Ethical Concerns: Commercialization may prioritize profit and entertainment over sporting ethics and fair play. There is a risk of compromising the integrity of the game, with instances of match-fixing, doping scandals, and unethical behavior tarnishing the reputation of sports leagues.

Challenges Faced by Traditional Sports: Commercially successful leagues often overshadow traditional sports in terms of popularity, funding, and media coverage. This can result in a decline of interest and resources for traditional sports, leading to a potential loss of cultural heritage and diverse sporting options.

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How have Indian sports leagues contributed to the improvement of sports infrastructure?

Commercialisation of sports leagues has attracted significant investments in sports infrastructure, leading to the development and upgrade of stadiums, training facilities, and sports academies, thereby enhancing the overall sporting infrastructure in India.

What opportunities have sports leagues created for Indian athletes?

Sports leagues have provided increased opportunities for Indian athletes to showcase their talent and pursue a professional career in sports. These leagues offer a platform for both established players and emerging talents to gain recognition, secure contracts, and earn a livelihood through sports.

How has commercialisation impacted the economy in relation to sports?

Commercialised sports leagues in India have had a positive impact on the economy by generating revenue streams, creating employment opportunities, and attracting investments from corporate sponsors and advertisers. They contribute to sectors such as hospitality, tourism, media, and merchandise, thus boosting economic growth.

What are some of the sports leagues in India?

Some of the sports leagues in India include the Indian Premier League (IPL) for cricket, Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) for kabaddi, Indian Super League (ISL) for football, and Premier Badminton League (PBL) for badminton.

Which is the most popular Sports League in India?

Indian Premier League (IPL) is the most popular Sports League in India.

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