The fifth edition of the Premier Badminton League (PBL) has generated some amount of buzz, if not on the scale you get to see for leagues like Indian Premier League (IPL) and Indian Super League (ISL).
The 2020 edition of the PBL has attracted big names like World Number 2 Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei world number six PV Sindhu from the host country India. It wasn’t exactly on unexpected lines to see the PBL franchises shelling out the highest amount of Rs 77 lakh for the duo of Tai Tzu Ying and PV Sindhu.
If one tries to get a perspective, one must understand that each of the seven PBL franchises had a stipulated purse of Rs 2 crore to spend and out of that Rs 2 crore, both defending champions Bengaluru Raptors and Hyderabad Hunters roped in the services of Tai Tzu Ying and PV Sindhu by forking out the highest permitted amount of Rs 77 lakh, making them the richest players of the 2020 Premier Badminton League.
In fact, Tai Tzu was snapped up by Bengaluru Raptors after a fierce bidding war with Pune Aces – interestingly, no men’s shuttler came anywhere close to matching the price at which Sindhu and Tai Tzu were lapped up by their respective franchises.
South Korea’s doubles specialist Ko Sung Hun emerged as the highest-paid men’s shuttler as he was bought by Awadhe Warriors for Rs 55 lakh, while Hong Kong’s Lee Cheuk Yiu was bought by North Eastern Warriors for Rs 50 lakhs. Parupalli Kashyap was the richest Indian men’s shuttler in the 5th PBL after he was roped in by Mumbai Rockets for Rs 43 lakh.
What has set tongues wagging in badminton circles is whether spending a huge amount of Rs 77 lakh from a purse of Rs 2 crore seems a judicious move on the part of the PBL franchises.
“See, the thing is to get a player like a Tai Tzu or a Sindhu, you need to compensate,” justified Raptors co-owner Prashanth Reddy before explaining just why the enormous amount of money makes sense.
“Had Tai Tzu not featured in the PBL, she would have easily made over $100,000 by playing in the BWF World Tour tournaments. Not only that, she would have gained ranking points from these tournaments. She also has some obligations to her sponsors, playing in the PBL for three weeks means another opportunity lost for these sponsors.
“A top player has to give up all these things to take part in the PBL. And hence, to compensate, the franchises have to pay, the league itself also has to pay an appearance fee,” said Reddy.
“What’s in it for us? As a fan and supporter of Indian badminton, it is very pleasing to see the likes of Gayatri Gopichand, Ashmita Chahila going up against Tai Tzu or Sindhu, you know. Normally, a 17-18 year-old shuttler would not get an opportunity to test his/her skills against the bests in the world. So the money, however ridiculous, makes complete sense,” he continued.
But is splurging on one player really worth it? Does one player make a team in any sport, let alone badminton? He or she can, at best, be a significant contributor for the team or, in PBL's case, the franchise.
Former Indian men’s international doubles player Uday Pawar feels that every franchise has the right to prioritise things as they want. “Priorities will be different for every franchise. Spending a substantial amount on one big player could make sense for the sheer brand value these big guns bring to the table. There is so much at stake, and having big players around also help franchises attract sponsors. It’s all about how every franchise looks at things from their perspective.”
“Any franchise may not get the best team or the players it wants at auctions simply because there are so many variable factors involved. So much of strategising is at play at auctions – you get to see how franchises continue to bid for a player even though they are not interested in buying that player and this is mainly to weaken the other teams, in terms of depleting their purse so that they cannot go all out with a big sum for a top player,” observed Pawar.
Raptors owner Reddy also voiced similar opinions. “Having Tai Tzu definitely helps us raise more awareness about the team. Even the little things, like a small social media message, carry a lot of weight when they come from Tai Tzu,” he said.
“More importantly, when you have someone like her in your team, you know she is going to win you a match no matter what... even before she steps on the court, you know. So it gives the rest of the team that confidence, it takes the pressure off and the other players, who are mostly youngsters can go and play their hearts out.”
“You have a total purse of Rs 2 crore. You are eventually going to spend all of it on buying your players. If we don’t spend 77 lakhs on Tai Tzu, we would end up spending the money on someone else. So why not go for the world's best shuttler?”
The debate on whether PBL franchises are justified in embarking on a high-buying spree for big guns will be never-ending. One hopes that the likes of Tai Tzu Ying and PV Sindhu will be able to inspire their respective franchises – Bengaluru Raptors and Hyderabad Hunters – to win the 5th PBL.
(With inputs from Sagnik Kundu)