Badminton is big business in Bengaluru. Spurred by a handful of top shuttlers who have stormed the global stage, and Bengalureans’ urge to stay fit, badminton has attracted people from across age groups.
The 6-to-60 age mantra works well for the game as academies, training centres and neighbourhood court complexes allow people virtual 24-hour access. Courts are full during weekends and a carnival-like atmosphere prevails at some big centres, which have other facilities such as swimming pool, jacuzzi and sauna. Weekend footfall often touches unmanageable proportions of 3,000-4,000. That IT and call centre employees spend a couple of hours on court in the wee hours, proves the sport’s increasing popularity.
This wasn’t the scenario two decades ago, when aspiring players and fitness freaks had limited options of expensive club memberships, training under top coaches or travelling to the Karnataka Badminton Association in the city centre to practice or play.
Badminton circles now boast of a whopping 4,000, and growing, courts in Bengaluru, including those in apartments. For eg, Rajarajeshwari Nagar and its surroundings, where badminton was restricted to around three courts in clubs just two years ago, have more than 20 courts now.
JP Nagar has emerged as a big centre in recent times, with Skyfinch Academy leading in both recreational badminton and organizing tournaments. The number of state ranking meets at new venues are pointers to the growing infrastructure –Skyfinch, Agon Sports near Hennur Bande and Accolades in Nagasandra being relatively new with their multi-court facilities.
A vast swathe covering JP Nagar, HSR Layout, Electronics City, Sarjapura, Marathahalli, Whitefield, Banaswadi, Hennur and Old Madras Road has recorded phenomenal growth in badminton infrastructure over the years. Easy access to indoor facilities and equipment, the appeal of the game across genders, and freedom from fickle weather draw thousands to these venues through the year. Structures with 4-6 courts have worked well as a business model too, catching the attention of land owners. A plot measuring 100x100sqft can accommodate four courts, with facilities such as washrooms and changing rooms.
Vijay Lancy, CEO, Prakash Padukone Sports Management, believes that courts have come up not merely because of enthusiasts, but also as it’s a good return on investment. “Investors foresee growth and earning potential and are prepared to wait. Investments run into crores; on an average, a wooden court costs Rs 20-25 lakh. To maximize on returns, it is better to opt for multisport venues, as with many centres in Sarjapur and Marathahalli,” he says.
“There are three options. One, the land owner constructs the facility and runs the show; two, he leases it to a second party who puts up the facility and allows it for public use; and three, a third party only runs the show. Rentals are Rs 1-2 lakh, and more if the facility and customer base are bigger. Such facilities are in demand among corporate houses and that widens the options of earning revenue. Everyone stands to gain,” Lancy adds.
Making access even simpler are apps which facilitate a quick interface between player and venue. Time slots, sometimes even playing partners, are fixed through them. One can pay by the hours of play, or opt for monthly and quarterly bookings. Courts are open from 5am with peak hours (6-9am and 7-10pm on weekdays) and weekends attracting a premium on rentals. Shuttles can be bought, and racquets and non-marking shoes are available on rent at the venue.
Thanks to the ease of doing business, competition is unusually high in areas such as Marathahalli, Hoodi, Whitefield and Hennur. While the average court cost per hour is around Rs 300 in Bengaluru, some centres resort to a price war, charging as less as Rs 100 to keep their customers.
Young fitness freaks and office-goers form a huge percentage of the clientele. Other adults seek to blend pastime with perfection, with the help of coaches; many are keen to make an impact on their corporate teams. Increasingly, badminton has also become a means for families to come together. “We have a regular stream of families during weekends. The 11pm-midnight slots are very popular. Kids do a bit of skating as parents and grandparents play. It’s fun, laughter and bonding over badminton,” says Shivakumar, who runs Gurukul, a 44-court facility spread across two venues beyond Marathahalli.
There is also a committed set of enthusiasts who play at 1-2am; a game as a stress buster has become an addiction for many call centre and IT employees who return home late at night. One dampener is closing time, and Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s guidelines on extended nightlife. Many centres wind up by midnight, but allow late-night games to flourish on the sly.