Deal could mean a new era of professional players not bound by team sponsors
Aug 8: China-based badminton company Li Ning announced its entry into the Indian market with a smart move ahead of the World Championships, signing up top Indian players Chetan Anand and Jwala Gutta on Saturday. The contract, which extends for two years for an undisclosed amount, will mean that the high-profile couple will use Li Ning’s equipment and playing gear when not turning out for team events. Most significantly, it is for the first time that top Indian players have moved away from market leader Yonex, which sponsors the national badminton team.
The signing is likely to cause Yonex concern, for several nations have associated themselves with other brands in recent years. Europe has made a decisive shift towards companies like Carlton, Babolat, Head and Forza, while Yonex has also been losing ground in its heartland Asia. The Korean team has signed with Victor, and most tellingly, the Chinese, with an exclusive contract with home company Li Ning in April this year. The Singapore national team too has gone the Li Ning way. With ambassadors like Lin Dan, Chen Jin, Bao Chunlai, Xie Xingfang and a veritable army of Chinese heroes to bank on, the Chinese company — founded by a two-time World Gymnastics champion 19 years ago — has already begun to make its presence felt outside its home domain.
Jwala told DNA the deal came through suddenly. “They contacted me just 10 days ago, and everything fell in place,” she said. “It’s not just about Li Ning… I think the more private companies there are in badminton, the better it will be for the game.”
While Chetan and Jwala did their ambassadorial work well enough, some insight into the company’s strategy came from Anil Sunkara, Director Sunlight Sports, Indian distributors for Li Ning. “Badminton in India is going to get much bigger than it is now and we have a lot of plans for it,” he said. “We have already spoken to a few private academies to see if we can sponsor them. Just wait a few days and watch what will happen.”
While Yonex are official sponsors of the World Championships and hence control ad displays in the venue, Li Ning plans to put up several hoardings around the city to seize the momentum that the event has generated.
The entry of new private entities could mean a new era of independent professional players who are not bound to the company that their national association signs up with. It will automatically mean higher prize money and bigger sponsorship deals. All this is, of course, only if the companies stick to their grandoise promises.