In 2009 when India hosted the BWF World Championship at the Gachibowli stadium in Hyderabad, a relatively unknown Chinese apparel brand Li Ning had rented all the roadside hoardings en route to the stadium.
The move had peeved official sponsors, Yonex, so much that they even asked the organisers and the world body to interfere against the “ambush marketing” by a rival brand. Li Ning had till then not even entered the Indian market, while the name Yonex was already synonymous to badminton in the country and even across the globe.
For decades, Yonex had been the only dominant brand in world badminton since no other apparel and equipment brand had attempted to make serious inroads in the sport. There were brands like Ashway, Babolat, Head in the international market but none of them could challenge the might of Yonex, thanks to their quality of shuttles and equipment.
However, in the last five-six years the scenario has started changing with new players like Li Ning, Victor, Flypower and now Thwack aggressively marketing themselves and getting support from many national associations who are encouraging competition for their own benefit.
At present, among the world’s badminton superpowers, only Japan and Malaysia are sporting the Yonex logo. While China was the first to shift to Li Ning in 2009, Korea currently sports Victor while Indonesia is slowly shifting to local brand Flypower.
Indian badminton has also not remained immune to the brand competition and no one is complaining.
For years, state associations and players complained that they were not getting good treatment from Yonex but had little or no choice but to stick to the brand since no other competitor had the quality or quantity to support them.
Maharashtra was the first state association to break-away from this trend when they signed a four-year deal with Victor even before Li Ning had entered the badminton market but the experiment had failed because Victor could not provide better back up support. However, the move did help the state association negotiate a far better deal from Yonex the next time around.
While Victor targeted the state associations, Li Ning went ahead and signed the likes of then national champion and top-20 player Chetan Anand, doubles stars Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa along with top men’s singles players Aravind Bhat and Anup Sridhar in 2009 to announce their arrival in India.
The emergence of these brands also awakened the Badminton Association of India (BAI) officials to the possibility of getting more money through sponsorship and for the first time, BAI issued a tender for sponsorship rights last year.
Though Yonex bagged the contract for another four years, this time they had to cough up Rs 5 crore as against the paltry Rs 30 lakh in the earlier contract.
Even players, who continue to sport Yonex brand, admit that the quality of service has improved thanks to the competition and are hoping that the picture will only get rosier with growing competition.
We are definitely not complaining.