F-1 left cricket behind in popularity stakesn in 2011

F-1 left cricket behind in popularity stakesn in 2011

Formula One and pro boxing were the first off the block to corner a lot of eyeballs and the multimillion-dollar World Series Hockey looks good for snatching its share.

It is cricket that showed them the way to capture the market share by successfully piloting the Indian Premier League (IPL) and international sports administrators are looking at India as a major destination to market their sport. A reasonably bullish economy and a billion people are encouraging enough for them to think that they can sell their sport here.

Formula One grabbed the first opportunity and its inaugural Grand Prix at Buddh international Circuit (BIC) at Greater Noida was a big hit, erasing the sour memories of a tainted Commonwealth Games a year ago.

The Grand Prix in October generated huge interest in the cricket-crazy country. On the race day (Oct 30), the BIC was teeming with close to 100,000 people, creating a festive atmosphere.  The screams of fans matched the vrooming and zomming of the drivers, including India's very own Narain Karthikeyan.

Interestingly, earlier that week there were few takers for India's ODI cricket series against England.

The race was one of the most watched sporting event in the world.
Accolades poured in for race promoters Jaypee Sports International which pulled off the show without a major controversy over that weekend.

Many doubted the readiness of the $400 million facility a couple of months before the Grand Prix, but all speculation was put to rest once the world motorsport body gave it a go ahead.

Sebastian Vettel was delighted to be the first-ever Indian Grand Prix champion. Though the German found the driving on Indian roads "scary," he fell in love with the meticulously designed track. McLaren's Jenson Button described the track as one of the best on the F1 calendar.

Boxing, too, made a splash in a big way. For long, the world body was planning an IPL-style event in the ring and it led to the birth of the World Series Boxing (WSB). India is represented in the international city-based league by Mumbai Fighters, owned by TransStadia, a sports and entertainment company.

"The WSB is a fascinating concept. It is a unique format and has added to the overall popularity of the sport in India and across the world," says P.K. Muralidharan Raja, secretary general of the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF).

Boxing has drawn hordes of youngsters from the northern and northeastern parts of the country thanks to the success of Vijender Singh in the Beijing Olympics as also the medals in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.

Thinking out of the box, the Venky's Mumbai Fighters gave the country an altogether new experience by hosting a boxing bout in a mall. Watched by an enthusiastic crowd, Mumbai Fighters team took on Los Angeles Matadors at the T-Box Mobile Arena, Inorbit Mall in Malad, Dec 9.

"We wanted to give the audiences a real high and a pure adrenaline rush," says Udit Sheth, Team Principal for  Venky's Mumbai Fighters.

Adds boxer Akhil Kumar: "It is really an innovative step to enhance the sport and the boxers' profiles. An event like this will also promote the opportunities on offer for aspiring boxers."

The eastern metropolis of Kolkata also hosted the star-studded Argentine team for a friendly against Venezuela. A host of Argentina superstars like Lionel Messi, his Barca teammate Javier Mascherano, Real Madrid stars Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria enthralled a packed Salt Lake Stadium as coach Alejandro Sabella launched 'Mission Rio' with a 1-0 win over the fellow South Americans.

The start of the World Series Hockey (WSH) ran into controversy as it clashed with the preparation of the national team for the Olympic qualification tournament. After weeks of haggling, it is put off to February.

The promised payment to players was so attractive that even those who have retired are back on the turf.

Bollywood personalities and corporate honchos have bought stake in the eight franchises of WSH. A joint initiative of Nimbus Sport and the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), the league is expected to give Indian hockey a big upward push.

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