Friday, October 31, 2014

Much-needed MS Dhoni tonic for Hero Hockey India League!

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The Hero Hockey India League (HIL) was perhaps the best thing to have happened to Indian hockey. The HIL seemed to have struck a right chord with all and sundry if the first two editions were anything to go by. Talented Indian youngsters, unheard off hitherto were thrown in at the deep end and while some may have floundered to hold their own against some of the world’s top hockey players like Jamie Dwyer, Teun de Nooijer, Moritz Fuertse, Barry Middleton, Simon Child, there were a few others thirsting at the prospect of showcasing their wares.

We saw how Indian youngsters Mandeep Singh, Affan Yousuf among a few others grabbed the HIL opportunity with both hands and let their stick do the talking. Stats-wise, the league was watched by 41 million fans across the country and was televised in 146 countries with its Facebook page attracting more than half a million likes – tell something about how the league has attracted eyeballs.

And with Indian men’s cricket team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni buying the Ranchi Rays, it does appear that the HIL is on the cusp of getting ‘even bigger’ than the first two editions after weathering a mild storm – pullout of the original owners of Ranchi and Mumbai franchises. Hockey India – the organisers of the league must have felt let down when the Dabur Group – owners of the Mumbai franchise – Mumbai Magicians pulled out of the 2015 edition, only to be followed by the Patel-PS Group and Uniexcel Group – the owners of Ranchi Rhinos.

To be fair, Mumbai Magicians did not have a great outing in HIL settling for a wooden spoon finish in the inaugural 2013 edition and just about avoided a bottom place finish in the 2014 ahead of debutants Kalinga Lancers. The withdrawal of Ranchi Rhinos was a tad surprising considering they were the 2013 champions and had finished third in the 2014 edition.

The league got a much-needed boost with Anirban Sarkar-owned Deccan Water Treatment Private Limited buying the Pune franchise and Radha Kapoor-founded DoIT Sports Management, who own the Delhi Franchise of the Pro Kabaddi League – Dabang Delhi – buying the Mumbai franchise. And the arrival of MS Dhoni ensures the league will feature seven teams in the 2015 edition, with the promise of emerging higher on the popularity charts just like the Indian Super League (ISL). Of course, it will be too much to expect HIL to match ISL in the immediate future, the seeds seems to have been sown for the HIL having that kind of aura sometime in the future.

Cricketers along with Bollywood celebrities are treated like nobody else are in this country, and the HIL can surely thrive on it. From the marketing perspective, the HIL can take new strides. Corporate houses make a beeline for the cricketers, which is no open secret and Dhoni’s involvement might serve not just Ranchi Rays but the HIL well over the long run.

Dhoni’s entry into the HIL cauldron may trigger other Indian cricketers and Bollywood celebrities to join the HIL bandwagon. John Abraham is a classic example – he co-owns HIL’s Delhi franchise – Delhi Waveriders and also Northeast football team franchise – Northeast United – and with the arrival of Ranchi Rays through Dhoni and Sahara Adventure Sports Group Limited, one gets the sense that more cricketers and Bollywood celebrities may walk down the HIL path. Dhoni much like John Abraham co-owns the Chennai football team franchise of the Indian Super League alongside Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan and Vita Dani.

We knows even the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohi, who co-own the football franchises of Kolkata, Kerala and Goa of Indian Super League, along with famed present and former cricketers could join the HIL knowing well what the sport can offer from the advertising point of view in the long run and the rich legacy it enjoys. There is a strong feeling that Dhoni’s HIL involvement could be just what the doctor ordered and might transform the Hero Hockey India League into a never-before-seen kind of thing!

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