Nathan Robertson, the Olympic silver medallist, says that the National Badminton League will set a new platform for the sport in the UK thanks to a “sharpened” Twenty20-style format, while younger players will gain maturity with the event’s game-changing rules.
Robertson is one of the founders of the inaugural NBL, which starts today (6 October), featuring six franchise teams playing match nights from October to April. A finals day with the top four teams will then be staged next June.
“We are trying to make it an entertainment package rather than a long drawn out evening affair. We want to attract new people to the sport and when you are taking children to an evening match you want them to experience the start and end of a match,” said Robertson.
The idea of a National Badminton League was first mooted 10 years ago, but it was only when Robertson retired from his prolific doubles career in 2012 that the concept started to take shape.
He admitted to being “a little surprised” that the world game has yet to stage a shortened, team style badminton event before. He said: “I have played in different leagues around Europe and they have strayed a little bit, but this is the first time we will have a match so short and sharp.”
To try and keep play continuous, there will be no breaks in play and if players want drinks during play then a time out has to be called. bOne of Robertson’s main visions, however, was to enforce a clampdown on coaching during the match nights.
“Currently, advice can be thrown on to the court the whole time by coaches,” said Robertson. “We will stop that unless there is a coaching time out. The hope is that players will develop maturity on court and we don’t have players turning around to their coaches after every point looking for advice.
“We see it in tennis and other sports and perhaps players are over reliant on the coaches - so I think it will be a great thing if the NBL can produce mentally strong players. You don’t see the very top players looking back to the coaches and we want to develop that earlier in players so they’re thinking more for themselves on court.”
Robertson says that the UK’s first professional league will also prove a winner with television viewers as well as attracting a new audience to the sport. Robertson said: "We are producing a completely different product. It’s still badminton with a few twists on the rules, but we will now have top quality badminton on TV and live at the location.
“Audiences can also follow team badminton for the first time, which only really happens at a Commonwealth Games. People can now go along to support a team, which will break the trend of having largely neutral fans at events. Home-biased fans create a more enthusiastic audience.
“My motivation for helping to set it up was that if you are a 16-year-old developing player it is hard to envisage yourself on television unless you made the Olympics.
“Now we’ve got a lot of talented players in the under-19 age groups. To be playing live on television will give them a real incentive."
Matches will start at 7:30pm, with one match broadcast live on Sky Sports, while the second match will be on streamed online, with a 24 hour delay in the UK.
The NBL matches will be played with shortened scoring. There will be five matches (men’s and women’s singles, mixed, men’s and women’s doubles) which all have to be completed inside 2-and-a-half hours to allow for television scheduling.
The six franchises for the first season are Birmingham Lions, Team Derby, Loughborough Sport, University of Nottingham Badminton, Surrey Smashers and Milton Keynes.
Tickets are on sale for the opening fixtures and for the latest NBL news and information go to badmintonengland.co.uk/NBL.