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Row, row, row your boat for a big prize money

Chitra Narayanan New Delhi | Updated on July 23, 2019

Nine boat clubs will participate in the Champions’ Boat League, conceived by the Kerala government, which will take place across six districts of the S tate over 12 weekends (file photo)

Kerala’s famous snakeboat race gets an IPL-style makeover

Cricket’s Indian Premier League has spawned many copycats — from Hockey India Lague to Pro Kabaddi League. Now look out for an IPL model Champions’ Boat League on Kerala’s scenic backwaters between August and November.

Nine boat clubs will contest in the CBL, conceived by the Kerala government, which will take place across six districts over 12 weekends, starting with the traditional Nehru Trophy Boat Race in Alapuzha on August 10 and ending with the President’s Trophy in Kollam on November 1. In all there will be 60 races, and one could possibly see as many as 3,000 rowers — each snakeboat has 125 members.

Franchisees can pick up boat clubs and brand them with their colours and logos. “We have invited companies and celebrities to bid for the clubs,” says P Bala Kiran, Director of Kerala Tourism. The auctions will take place on July 29, and the last date for a show of interest is July 25.

“We want people to get attached to the boat club, the boat, the players, and finally the Champions Trophy as a whole. At present the boat clubs are running on their own but if they are supported by a franchisee, it will be able to create better fan loyalty,” says Bala Kiran.

Auction

During the auction, each boat club will be asked to talk about its history, pitch its team strength, quality of boats, and so on to entice a company to buy in. Foreign companies — so long as they have operations in India — can buy a team as well. Each club will be allowed to get up to 25 per cent of its team members from outside the State. Going forward, although snakeboat rowing is a skill that is very special to Kerala, there could even be teams from other States.

The format has been conceived to make the races as spectator friendly as possible. So, each weekend there will be five races — three heats and two finals (top three will make it to the two finals). The winner of each race gets 10 points, No 2 gets 8 points, No 3 bags 7 points and so on (nine deliberately left out). At the end, the team with the most points rows home the trophy.

A special purpose vehicle has been floated to run the tournament, with Bala Kiran as the CEO, and a budget of ₹40 crore set aside, of which ₹6 crore is earmarked for the prize money. The first year will be a totally government run event with the help of sponsors but over time the league could be handed over to the private sector. According to Bala Kiran, the Tourism Department has decided to own the CBL property as one of the goals of the league is to make Kerala a 365-days destination. Normally during the monsoon, between June and October, it’s lean season. Since the snakeboat race is traditionally held during the rains, it appeared the best fit to make it the hero of the monsoon tourism. Also, Alapuzha has been historically associated with boating, now the State wants to make destinations like Kottapuram (Thrissur) or Ponnani in Malappuram district equally famous and they could ride the CBL tide to draw visitors to these places.

“The whole League has been conceived with the spectator in mind,” says Bala Kiran, adding that they want tourists and locals to be able to catch at least five races. Typically, the annual Nehru Trophy is not very spectator friendly as you just reach the venue and hope for a good view. All that will change with the CBL, which will have tickets priced from ₹100 to ₹3,000 and good food and beverage stalls.

Besides, all action will be televised. This year, the television rights are not being sold, but the State will take care of the production and broadcast arrangements tying up with as many channels as possible. But once the League gets going, says Bala Kiran, they could look at all commercial possibilities.

Published on July 23, 2019

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