When private leagues help make a living

The player auction held this week for India’s Premier Badminton League (PBL) included some tidy sums, particularly when seen next to 2018 prize money, even for some of badminton’s biggest […]

The player auction held this week for India’s Premier Badminton League () included some tidy sums, particularly when seen next to 2018 , even for some of badminton’s biggest names.

By Raphael Sachetat.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

A few years ago, professional badminton players welcomed the arrival of some new private leagues, particularly in India, Malaysia, China, and Indonesia.  That came on top of the traditional club leagues which had been still going strong in Europe, and lower-profile, primarily domestic leagues in several countries.

But those private leagues have even been a breath of fresh air to many players who are within the top 50 in the world, but who would have difficulty eking a living out of the prize money they make in a year.  Even if the total prize money has significantly increased over the past couple of years, for most, it’s still not enough, and players still depend on salaries from clubs, and in some cases, national teams.  In fact, two PBL doubles players finished 2017 ranked #5 in the world but barely made the top 100 in prize winnings, earning just over US$20,000 each for their troubles.

Of course, individual sponsors another important source of income and these deals sometimes clash with those with federation sponsors as we’ve seen making the news from places like Denmark and Chinese Taipei, for instance.  And let’s not forget that for most outside the top 50, funding from government programmes and the players’ own families are another crucial source.

In a bit of news more reminiscent of other categories of professional sport, last Monday, the Indian PBL launched its fourth edition with the auction being made once again for teams to buy their players.  Eight of the nine teams in total put up the PBL maximum sum of 80 lakh (8 million) rupees, or approximately US$108,000, to secure the services of their Icon player.  And to some players, this money is just vital to finish up the year and is a crucial part of their annual income, a fact Viktor Axelsen has stressed in the book which was released this week in Denmark.

For some players, the PBL can provide a sum that doubles the prize money they have earned so far in 2018, as is the case with  of France (pictured top), for instance, who has won US$13,000 so far this year in prize money and was bought by the Pune Warriors for about US$27,000.  The same goes for Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour (pictured right), who will double her prize money from 9 months of competition on the tour (US$17,625) by playing 2 weeks in India and earning approximately US$35,000.  Youngsters like Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Anders Antonsen will do even better, with the Dane multiplying his income by seven.

It’s even more crucial for those players who have recently gone independent from their national teams, and who rely mainly on prize money and sponsors.  Consider the situation of Lee Yong Dae (pictured left).  He has just started playing again and his prize money for 2018 is only US$8,100, while his auction price – the $108,000 maximum – beats that by a ratio of 13 to 1!  The case of Tian Houwei from China is even more striking.  The Chinese shuttler has not played an international tournament in 2018 but he still fetched US$43,000 at auction.  This is a sign that the league is a good way to make a living for young retired players or those coming back from injury, or who have simply been sidelined by their own national federations.

For an interesting comparison which highlights how important these private leagues are for some of the top players, consider the following list of selected PBL Season 4 players.  The second column shows their 2018 prize money as of October 12th – according to BWF data -and the third, their price at the PBL auction.


PBL Auction Value

2018 Prize Money (US$)
Tian Houwei

32 lakh rupees  (US$43,000)


Lee Yong Dae

80 lakhs ($108,000)


Anders Antonsen

55 lakhs ($75,000)


Lee Hyun Il

60 lakhs ($81,000)


Satwiksairaj Rankireddy

52 lakhs ($70,000)


Saina Nehwal

80 lakhs ($108,000)


Brice Leverdez

20 lakhs ($27,000)


Chong Wei Feng

14 lakhs ($19,000)


Kirsty Gilmour

26 lakhs ($35,000)


Lee Dong Keun

36 lakhs ($49,000)


P. V. Sindhu

80 lakhs ($108,000)


Marcus Ellis

20 lakhs ($27,000)


Tommy Sugiarto

70 lakhs ($95,000)


Viktor Axelsen

80 lakhs ($108,000)


Carolina Marin

80 lakhs ($108,000)



Raphaël Sachetat

About Raphaël Sachetat

Raphael is the Chief Editor of Badzine International. He is the founder of the website together with Jean François Chauveau. After many years writing for the BWF and many publications around the world about badminton, he now leads a team of young and dynamic writers for Badzine.