If the initial telecast reports are any indication, the Hero Hockey India League has been a runaway success. According to the broadcast surveys, the number of viewers for the first six matches was higher than any other hockey event in recent times.
The matches in the aforementioned span were watched by 1.46 crore people in the opening week, in comparison to .63 crore the World Series Hockey had drawn and .58 crore the Champions Trophy managed to.
Even the preliminary stages of the UEFA Euro didn’t manage as many eyeballs. It is 1.7 times UEFA Euro 2012’s reach for the first six matches and 24 times the average weekly reach of I-league.
The stadiums weren’t exactly packed to the rafters, except in small centres such as Ranchi (the stadium capacity is smaller as compared to Delhi) and Lucknow.
The crowd in Mumbai was discouraging, while it ranged from modest to engaging in centres such as Delhi and Jalandhar. Though you can’t expect full-house stadiums, the turnouts were heartening. Hence, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it a success, especially considering the subsisting plunge of the national team.
“The response we have received has been superb. Almost all the stadiums are packed. This league has really put us on a global map and showcases the hockey talent that is prevalent in India,” reckoned Sardar Singh, India hockey’s foremost name in international hockey.
There is no doubting the quality of the event and its eventual benefits for the sport, especially in India, where it’s desperate for a fillip, where the interest is progressively subsiding. However, the success it has gained is a relative one, and not an overwhelming success. While it has established a platform for the sport to grow in the country, it’s still a study in progress, still treading the incipient phase.
A significant hindrance to its pan-India appeal is the absence in the South and East. While the Bangalore-franchisee went unsold, though HIL believe someone would snap it next season, there was no franchisee allocated to the East, notably Orissa, one of its power-centres.
Both Premier Hockey League and World Series Hockey League, HIL’s predecessors, had a better spread-out franchisee base. While PHL had three (Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai) in South, WSH had representations in Chennai and Bengaluru. WSH had teams from Pune and Bhopal, while PHL had Orissa Steelers.
Hence, the presence was more evenly scattered, catering to every region where hockey had a noticeable presence, and consequently garnered a pan-Indian reach, whereas HIL is confined to a largely Northern India block (three of the five centres).
Aloke Malik, Managing Director, ESPN Software India, opined they have overreached their expectations.
“We are absolutely delighted. Reach garnered by the broadcast of Hero Hockey India League in the first week vindicates the confidence we had in this tourney,” he said.
However, it could have been better had there been some presence in the South or the East. Though hockey faithful of the South would have still switched on their television sets, there isn’t the emotional connect that leagues, irrespective of the sport, thrives on.