Until sometime back, cricket was the only sports in India that attracted viewership and corporate money. It was a sad story for other sports, which languished as poor cousins to cricket in terms of earnings and recognition. The year 2013, however, brought a semblance of change, as Indian Badminton League, IBL and Hockey India League, HIL, together raised about 1700 million Indian Rupees in broadcaster revenues. Although this amount is merely 20% of that generated in IPL matches, it was still a right step in furthering the interest of two neglected, but otherwise popular sports.
Time was, when India had a great hockey team, endowed with an artistic game of such high standard that other nations did their best to emulate. However, in the last two decades, Indian hockey has seen a marked decline, whereas, Australia and European nations have emerged as far more powerful. While new hockey rules and extremely fast playing surfaces have changed the face of the game, Indian hockey could not keep pace with the fast improving European and Australian hockey. The reason is clearly attributable to the development of European domestic circuit and higher level of funding through business sponsorship. While India too, has many domestic tournaments, paucity of funds, needless glorification of cricket and faction-ridden hockey management had been demotivating factors for younger players.
The advent of HIL in 2013, on the lines of cricket’s IPL, has heightened the level of general interest in hockey. The inaugural year brought a mix of Indian and foreign players in the five franchisee-based teams. The event was duly approved by the International Hockey Federation, which also created a month-long slot, at the beginning of the year, in order to allow participation by all top players, from across the world. Hero MotoCorp took the baton of sponsoring the event and the tournament was officially called the Hero Hockey India League.
In the first season last year, five teams played during January 14- February 10, 2013, in a triple-round-robin format, culminating into the knock-out stage finally. Ranchi Rhinos won the tournament by beating Delhi Wariders in the final. Indian players had a lot to learn from their overseas team-mates about modern tactics and since HIL also attracted famous coaches like Terry Walsh, Barry Dancer, Ric Charlesworth and Roelant Oltmans, intense competition was witnessed all through the tournament. The most important thing was the entry of big money in hockey.
This year, Ramandeep Singh was bought by UP Wizards for 5 Million Rupees, the highest amount in HIL for an Indian player. But other players, Indian or overseas, also reaped financial benefits from the professionalism of HIL. Ramandeep broke Sardar Singh’s 4.8 million rupee tag of last year but the highest prize of 5.4 million rupees, paid by UP Wizards for the Dutch veteran Teun de Nooijer, in the first season still remains the top-prize tag.
The second season began on January 25, 2014 and a number of matches have already been played. There is a new franchise; Kalinga Lancers, this year, in addition to the last year’s five; UP Wizards, Jaypee Punjab Warriors, Ranchi Rhinos, Delhi Waveriders and Mumbai Magicians. These franchises are owned by corporate houses with matches organized at multiple venues like; Delhi, Mumbai, Ranchi, Mohali, Lucknow and Bhubaneswar. As of yesterday, Delhi Waveriders are leading the field with 4 victories in 7 matches and 24 points. Jaypee Punjab Warriors with 18 points are close behind but they have played only 5 matches. UP Wizards are placed third with 15 points from 5 matches and 2 wins and last year’s champion Ranchi Rhinos have 13 points from 4 matches and 2 wins. The other two teams, Mumbai Magicians and Kalinga Lancers are languishing on 5th or 6th places with hardly any gains from 5 and 4 matches respectively.
This season, some Indians are reckoned as key players. Forward Mandeep Singh of Ranchi Rhinos, a member of India’s junior and senior teams, who helped India win the under-21 Sultan of Johor Cup, Asia Cup and 2013 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. Another Ranchi Rhino player, Manpreet Singh is an upcoming midfielder but he is a bit overshadowed by seniors. UP Wizards forward, Nitin Thimmaiah is a promising star, adept at one-to-one tackle, scoring ability, speed and power. Punjab Warriors forward, Affan Yousuf plays for India and is improving by the day. Kothajit Singh is a defender with Ranchi Rhinos and he is regarded as one of the future stars of India’s senior team.
It is obvious that money is the single most important motivator in hockey. The winner of 2014 Hockey India League will collect 25 million Indian rupees, while the runner-up will be richer by 12.5 million rupees. The team on the third spot will be given 7.5 million rupees. Apart from team prizes, the player scoring most goals will get 1 million rupees, while 2 million rupee will be given to the upcoming player. In addition, man-of-the-match in every game will get 25000 rupees each. A unique prize of a million rupees has been earmarked for someone, who makes everyone feels proud.