After a few attempts at re-igniting interest in India’s national sport by organising IPL-style hockey leagues, it looks Hockey India League (HIL) has finally cracked the formula. It has seen crowds turn up in decent numbers to watch the action, the playing field has some of the biggest names in world hockey and the TV ratings have been extremely good. Narendra Batra, chairman, HIL, talks to Aabhas Sharma about the promising start and if this is a new dawn for Indian hockey.
How has been the response to HIL from advertisers and spectators? Do you think it has been a success both financially as well as on the field?
We’ve made a promising start and the numbers are certainly encouraging. Over 15 million people have watched HIL on television so far and although ticket sales were slow to begin with, they too have picked up. The standard of hockey in the league has been excellent and that’s why people are watching it.
Advertisers had shown great belief in the league and I am sure they too would be happy with the response. We have Hero as the title sponsor, Airtel as associate sponsor and ESPN-Star as the broadcast partner. These are big names that have invested in the league and we are delighted with their support. Moreover, when you have Sahara Group, Jaypee Group, Dabur as franchise owners it means that they do see value in this concept. So we are delighted with the response.
In the past there have been similar attempts with the Premier Hockey League and World Series Hockey in the past but they didn’t garner much interest. What has been the difference between them and HIL?
The quality of hockey is certainly a big difference. Look at the playing field in HIL: we’ve got the best of the best. There’s Jamie Dwyer, Teun De Nooijer and Simon Orchard, who are among the best hockey players in the world. People want to see them play and that’s why we’ve had big crowds.
Also the best of Indian players are there. Sandeep Singh, Sardara Singh, V R Raghunath — all big names and, most important, known names. The teams have a good mix of Indian and foreign players and it has added to the spectacle. What is clear is that if you give the fans a good package, there’s enough interest in hockey from the fans. HIL also had a successful auction of players and they are making good money out it as well. The challenge, however will be to sustain it in coming years.
Do you fear HIL might fade away after the initial success?
As I said, that’s the biggest challenge but I have a feeling that won’t be the case with HIL. From the beginning there’s been a buzz around HIL and it is good to see that it hasn’t died down. It was marketed very well and ESPN-Star promoted it very well. You need to deliver on that promise, and I think HIL has done that. The players, coaches too have been excited about the league and are enjoying themselves. Our mission is to redefine Indian hockey through HIL and we are confident that it will do the sport a lot of good
There were quite a few empty stands for a lot of HIL matches at the start of the league, despite giving away free tickets. Have the numbers gone up and what has been the revenue from ticket sales?
Delhi has seen consistently good crowds, as have Ranchi and Mumbai. Lucknow has seen packed houses for every match day. On an average, we’ve seen 5,000 people turn up for games. Compared to IPL or cricket, the number seems pretty low but this is just the first season; for the semi-finals and finals we are expecting the numbers to go up. Not all tickets were given away free and it is a bit early to talk about revenue from tickets. But we have kept the ticket prices intentionally low. We want the masses to come and see world class hockey at a reasonable price.
Do you feel that HIL will have a positive impact on Indian hockey or will it be another false dawn?
We are positive that HIL will have a lasting impact on Indian hockey. It will improve the standard of hockey as it gives young Indian players to rub shoulders with and against the biggest names in sport. Indian hockey has over the last few years has seen a few disappointments, but we are confident that the interest from fans, corporate support will be much more after HIL.