July 6, 2017

Doordarshan plans to launch university sports leagues in India - including basketball

If you are an avid basketball watcher in India, you know that the grainy, technicolour coverage on state broadcasters Doordarshan and DD Sports have been our only option for domestic hoops for years. "Alternative" sports like basketball get little national media attention and, until the recent Ten Sports/UBA League partnership, have had to settle for the DD coverage for years. But Doordarshan - that eternal time machine to the 1980s - is now deciding to take a surprising step forward for the future of sports in India.

Last week, The Mint reported that Doordarshan is currently making plans to launch three different university sports leagues in India later this year, in basketball, tackle football (a modified form of American football) and kabaddi. According to Doordarshan's director general Supriya Sahu, the network has already initiated talks with a yet-unnamed American company that has experience in the university sports sector.

More details as reported by Harveen Ahluwalia on Livemint:
The idea, Sahu said, is to develop a public-private partnership in a bid to put in place a structure for university sports—beginning with the aforementioned sports and later expanding the format to others.
“DD Sports is in the process of reinvigorating the content of the channel and rebranding it to make it relevant for its target audience. Sports leagues are major content differentiators in the genre. It sees potential in university sports,” she said.
Once the leagues are in place, the plan is to air the zonal matches on the regional channels of Doordarshan and the finals on DD National. “However, all the matches will be aired on DD Sports. The leagues will be launched with a strategic publicity and promotion plan which includes cross-channel, print, radio and outdoor publicity,” said Sahu.

“The television rights for collegiate sports are widely contested for and are sold at huge prices in the US. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry. To replicate this in India is a great proposition by Doordarshan, only if it is marketed, promoted and produced well,” said Tuhin Mishra, managing director and co-founder of sports marketing firm Baseline Ventures.

“Most of the developed sporting nations have grown on the back of strong university league infrastructure. In India, there is no structure for someone who wants to become a professional football or cricket player,” said Vinit Karnik, business head of ESP Properties, the sports and entertainment arm of media buying agency GroupM.
A university basketball league and circuit has existed in India for a long time, starting with the old All India University Tournament, which immediately morphed into the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) tournament that was most-recently run by the UBAU, bringing the best teams from all four Indian zones for a national championship. UBAU's intention was for this tournament to be inspired by the American NCAA basketball structure.

The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) along with their sponsors IMG-Reliance also launched the Indian College Basketball League (ICBL) several years ago, which at its height was held in 24 Indian cities. But the break-up within the BFI into two competing factions hurt the IMG-Reliance partnership and the ICBL has been in hiatus for the past two years.

It is unclear how Doordarshan's proposed university basketball league will differ or compete with the AIU championships or the ICBL, which will likely make a return soon. Of course, some shade of politics will be in the backdrop of these two competing university basketball events: the ruling BFI has been opposed by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports of the Government of India, and Doordarshan happens to fall fully under the government's lap. With a basketball league launched by Doordarshan itself, fans can at least be certain of guaranteed basketball broadcast of the games.

It is good to see that non-Cricket sports are getting more attention in India. According to Ahluwali's Livemint piece, there are currently six major sports leagues played across the country: Indian Premier League, Indian Super League, Pro Kabaddi League, Hockey India League, Premier Badminton League and International Premier Tennis League. Non-cricket leagues saw their franchise revenue growing 4.97% from Rs 201.2 crore in 2015 to Rs 211.2 crore in 2016.

All of these, however, are leagues where the athletes are not university students but professionals. No matter if the source is Doordarshan, the BFI, or the UBAU, I hope that a college/university basketball league can eventually gain more traction and popularity and usher in demand for a full, professional basketball league in India.

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