The 2020 Premier Badminton League (PBL) is being held across three venues with Chennai, Lucknow and Hyderabad shouldering the ‘hosting responsibilities’ of all the matches of the fifth edition of the PBL. It is now known how the Bengaluru pushed hard to host some matches of the 2020 PBL, but their efforts went in vain.
The PBL may be into its fifth edition (in fact, the sixth edition if you take the 2013 edition earlier known as the Indian Badminton League), but one of the trends witnessed in the seven-year league is that it hasn’t been held at all venues of all participating franchises save for the inaugural 2013 Indian Badminton League (IBL) when the league was held at all venues of six participating franchises.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Indoor Stadium was then the hosting venue of Mumbai Marathas while Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex, Badminton Hall was the hosting venue of Pune Pistons. Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium was then the hosting venue of Bangla Beats, while Gachibowli Indoor Stadium was then the hosting venue of Hyderabad Hotshot. DDA Badminton and Squash Stadium was then the hosting venue of Delhi Smashers, while Babu Banarasi Das Indoor Stadium was then the hosting venue of Awadhe Warriors.
In 2016 IBL was rechristened Premier Badminton League (PBL). With rechristening the trend of all franchises serving as host cities was discontinued. The 2016 Premier Badminton League – the first edition of PBL saw six teams with Chennai Smashers replacing Pune Pistons and they were joined by Awadhe Warriors, Bengaluru Topguns (formerly Banga Beats), Delhi Dashers (formerly Delhi Acers), Hyderabad Hunters(formerly Hyderabad Hotshot) and Mumbai Rockets (formerly Mumbai Marathas) – in the 2016 edition Chennai did not host any matches on its PBL debut.
The 2017 PBL featured six teams – again like the 2016 PBL, Chennai Smashers did not host any matches even as the rest five teams - Delhi Acers, Mumbai Rockets,Hyderabad Hunters, Awadhe Warriors and Bengaluru Blasters (formerly Bengaluru Topguns) served as hosting cities.
The 2018 PBL received a big boost, in terms of the number of participating team going to 8 with two new entrants - Ahmedabad Smash Warriors and North Eastern Warriors. Like the trends witnessed in the 2016 and 2017 editions, the 2018 PBL was held at only five venues - Guwahati, Delhi, Lucknow, Hyderabad and Chennai as three teams - Ahmedabad Smash Warriors, Mumbai Rockets and Bengaluru Blasters did not host any matches.
The 2019 PBL marked the return of the Pune franchise – Pune 7 Aces after a long hiatus as it featured nine teams – the highest number of teams ever participated in the PBL.
Four teams among the nine teams - Ahmedabad Smash Warriors, Delhi Dashers, North Eastern Warriors and Chennai Smashers did not host any matches.
The ongoing 2020 PBL has three teams - Chennai Superstarz (formerly ChennaiSmashers,) Awadhe Warriors and Hyderabad Hunters hosting matches, with four teams - North Eastern Warriors, Bengaluru Raptors, Pune 7 Aces and Mumbai Rockets not hosting any matches.
Clearly, there is a feeling whether not having all participating teams hosting matches is a good idea for any league, let alone PBL, but how does a scenario of seven-team league featuring only three cities hosting matches pan out as far as the popularity of the league is concerned? You can’t say for sure if the league restricted to three cities augurs well for the future of the league,which is into its sixth edition.
Former Indian woman doubles specialist Jwala Gutta is not sure why all participating teams are not hosting matches of the 2020 PBL.
“To be honest, I don’t know the reasons that could have prevented the organisers from hosting matches at all seven venues of the participating teams of the 2020 PBL and restrict it to just three venues.” Gutta says.
Gutta, who had featured in the PBL thrice in 2013, 2016 and 2017 editions, and even captained the Delhi Smashers team in 2013, said things were different when she used to play in the PBL. “I clearly remember the 2013 IBL when I led the Delhi Smashers team when all matches were held at venues of six participating teams,” she adds.
The one time doubles mainstay of India, who rose to a career-high world ranking of 6 in mixed doubles (with V Diju) and 9 in women’s doubles (with Ashwini Ponnappa) is appalled at the fact that women’s doubles has been cold-shouldered at the PBL.“It makes me sad that the PBL has overlooked women doubles – the current format has everything – men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles but nothing for women’s doubles. Having women’s doubles in PBL would have provided a much-needed thrust to women’s doubles in the country,” she says with a tinge of disappointment.
Former Indian men’s doubles player Uday Pawar also threw his perspective on whether the PBL could be held at venues of all seven participating teams. “I would say it is better to have matches held in cities where the team is popular. Further, it should be held in cities where geographically it is easier to travel. For example, if you are travelling from Kashmir to Kanyakumari it will take a toll on the travel of players and also increase costs as well.”
Bengaluru Raptors co-owner Prashanth Reddy believes practically it is not possible for the PBL to be held at every franchise venue given the short duration of the league.
“The PBL calendar is short and there are seven teams and all matches have to be conducted over a period of three weeks. If you are looking at hosting matches at every franchise venue, then you got to allocate three days for every venue,which is just not possible," Reddy said.
According to Reddy logistical reasons combined with India's large geographical size comes into play. "For example, when we were travelling from Hyderabad to Lucknow,we had to proceed via Delhi as there were no direct flight from Hyderabad to Lucknow.” Reddy explained.
Reddy added that the PBL could see matches at every franchise venue in future if the league is held over a period of six months. “Having matches at every franchise venue can be explored in future when the PBL grows in stature and is held over a period of six months. For now, the PBL is not a big budget league on the lines of IPL or ISL.”
One hopes that going forward the organisers would do its bit to grow the PBL in such a manner that they are able to host matches at every franchise venue and not restrict it to three cities!