After the inception of Indian Premier League, the richest cricket league not only in the country but across the world, there were many leagues that followed across different sports.
While some managed to stay afloat, others faded away. The list is long, Hockey Premier League, International Premier Tennis League being two of the major disappointments.
However, some niche sports like Kabaddi and Table Tennis have been able to make their sponsors happy over back to back seasons. Kabaddi, in fact, was perceived to be a niche sport but the numbers suggest that it has become the next big thing in league sports in India after IPL. Next year, a new league will take place in India – the Premier Handball League.
In this interview with CEO and co-founder of PHL Manu Agrawal, we try to understand how a sport like handball can make a place in the hearts of the Indian masses, the plan to launch it in India and what would be the challenges to make it a success.
1. What is the total investment in the league and how do you plan to get the returns?
We have allocated an initial investment of Rs 240 crores, spread across the Premier Handball League and various development programs for the sport of Handball in India.
We are working on a professional sports league model so revenue streams are the same as in any other sports league, namely, branding rights and media rights. Having said that, our goal is building value for the sport of Handball in India, monetary returns shall follow.
2. This is not a very popular sport. Why do you think it will work in India as a league, knowing so many leagues of more popular sports have struggled or have shut shop?
Contrary to general opinion, handball is played widely across India. We have around 80,000 registered players with Handball Federation of India across age and gender categories and more than 1100000 individuals play this sport across schools and universities.
Its an Olympic sport and the second most popular sport in Europe. The sport has not generated media attention as of now but that’s because it was not commercialised. With launch of the Premier Handball League, the sport is set to get wider attention and then only its popularity shall come to the front.
There are various reasons for a sports league to be successful or unsuccessful. We have done a lot of research on those factors and have carefully structured our league model to ensure we eliminate those factors.
3. How will the league work? Is it going to be auction based?
Premier Handball League Season 1 shall feature six franchise-based teams, each representing a state. First three seasons of the league are going to be single venue seasons, players shall be selected through draft process in the first season.
There will be three categories of players, two categories for Indian players and one category for foreign players.
In subsequent seasons, franchises shall have the right to retain players that they have picked in previous seasons. Released players shall go back to the players pool, where they shall be eligible to be selected by teams through draft. This process shall be followed for first three seasons. Season four onwards we shall move to caravan style league with player auctions.
4. What have been the apprehensions that you guys have regarding its success. If any?
There have never been any apprehensions about the success of the league, since we realized how widely the sport is played at the national level.
Our confidence has only increased about its success after the best performance of India till date at the Olympics, which has only increased public interest in Olympic sports in general. Handball is the fastest Olympic sport with an average of 50-60 goals a match.
Its action-packed sports entertainment for one hour, crisp and compact. Its very easy to follow and that’s why we believe it will be enjoyed by everyone across age and gender categories, especially by the youth.
5. What has been the biggest challenge getting handball league to India?
There were basic operational challenges like collecting data from all the players from across India and creating a customized database of all the players, officials and stakeholders in the sport of handball in India, but the Handball federation of India has been very supportive to us and we have created systems for everything related to operation, administration and execution of the Premier Handball League to make it stand at par with the best handball leagues in the world, in season one itself.
Then of course, there are challenges related to privatization of an Olympic sport in a country obsessed with only one sport. It’s a continuous exercise to get stakeholders of the Indian sports business interested in something new, but thankfully, that journey has been smoother than expected, because the product (Premier Handball League) is so appealing in itself, and it’s a journey that will continue for some more time into the future. While one can call it a challenge, it has been biggest motivation at the same time.