"We're back in 2009-10," says Henrik Axelsen, Viktor Axelsen's father and manager, as he enthusiastically - and with a hint of agitation in his voice -recalls the meeting with Viktor Axelsen's first sponsor, Head.

"We were sitting at a large table in the middle of negotiations when a Head employee looked up at Thomas Bishoff and me and asked, 'What's the difference between your sport and tennis?'”.

The employee was surprised that the sponsorships they were negotiating were significantly lower than those they used to sign in tennis.

Today, Viktor has a position that gives him a voice, but also a responsibility. We want to break with it all - to say it as it is.

- Henrik Axelsen
Photo: Diego Azubel

It was precisely here that a mantra stuck with Henrik Axelsen - just as Thomas Bishoff said:

"If we are to address the missed commercial potential in badminton, we need to get some Americans interested. We need to get some of the players out of their federation obligations, and we need some business people at the top instead of association people."

Perhaps the most significant driving force for promoting any sport is in the hands of the athletes and their financial backers. Henrik Axelsen has been carrying Bishoff's sentence with him ever since - and now he believes there is a paradigm shift on its way.

"We've been saying it for a long time now, and I don't think they can ignore us much longer," points out Henrik Axelsen

Henrik Axelsen - Manager for Viktor Axelsen
The underrated sport with great potential

From a commercial standpoint, badminton is in many ways the underdog. Despite having over 339 million active badminton players and approximately 735million fans worldwide, the otherwise popular sport lags far behind in the commercial arena.

Sports like tennis, golf, and Formula 1 do not reach badminton's level of popularity and exposure, yet the economic gain for athletes is significantly higher in these sports.

Let's first take a look at prize money.

In 2012, the total prize money for the prestigious badminton tournament, All England, was £290,500, which is almost DKK 2.5 million.

In comparison, the prize money for Wimbledon in tennis was approximately £16 million, which is over DKK 135 million. That's a difference of more than 132 million. If we look further ahead in time and examine the difference in 2022, it is more than double, at DKK 333 million.

A slightly smaller but still similar picture emerges when we compare All England with the golf tournament The Open. It is a clear indication of how badminton is falling further and further behind.

The graph shows the evolution of the prize money in Badminton, Tennis and Golf respectively from 2012 to 2022.

And let's now move on to sponsorships

Over a full Formula 1 season, with 23 races, badminton achieves approximately the same total exposure in just one tournament. Moreover, if we remove recurring viewers from the equation, a badminton tournament has about three times as many unique viewers.

However, if we compare the sponsorship deals that Formula 1 makes, the price level is more than 50 times higher than a comparable deal in badminton.

There have been many good explanations over time for this economic difference.

Is it because there are more wealthy Western individuals who are interested in tennis, Formula 1, and golf – and therefore economically heavy companies do not see the potential in the large Asian audience that badminton has?

Perhaps badminton federations and players have not had the data and numbers and not seen the potential that exists? Or maybe the industry has not been able to act on the basis of the numbers?

I am working to find the platform and partners that can transform badminton from a neglected garden game into a world-class sport

- Henrik Axelsen

For Henrik Axelsen, the answer is clear, and the missed business opportunities are something both they and the sport suffer from today:

"We are burdened by the fact that people have not been able to make money from this. Not even on a global level. The sport has simply been too bad at selling itself."

The insights are there. We know that Viktor Axelsen had over 1.2 billion TV viewers for his matches in 2022. The problem is that these insights are not being actively used.

Sponsorship expert and founder of Above Sports, Thomas Badura, supports the claim of the missed commercial potential in badminton.

"If we now imagine badminton as a company, shareholders would have long since called for a restructuring. If the Badminton World Federation (BWF) methodically approached a strategic use of data, there is evidence that it could make a huge difference, both for the BWF as a rights holder, the individual athlete, the audience, and the entire sport. It would potentially be a game-changer for the entire commercialization of badminton - both now and in the future", Thomas emphasizes.

Breaking with the past

The revenue-generating opportunities in badminton are growing, the popularity of badminton is growing, and the broadcast side of badminton is growing, but the sport still has untapped commercial potential.

Internal confrontations and attempts to address the sport's issues have a tendency to turn into infighting. For example, in 2022, the Malaysian badminton federation chose to suspend Lee Zii Jia for two years for leaving the federation and going independent so he could control his own training. The same happened to compatriot Goh Jin Wei.

In several sports, the players' power has been highly dependent on whether top stars have been willing to speak out for their colleagues. Something the Axelsen family has not been afraid of. We see this both when the stories about the Malaysian federation came to light, where they spoke up, and now, where the family is ready to take another step to create the changes the sport needs.

"Viktor has a position today that gives him a voice, but also responsibility. We will address everything - to say it as it is. There is a need for someone to take a look at the value of badminton, take those numbers into their hands, and say: Now we need to change this. Now we need to hand it over to those who are at the center of this - and that is the players," says Henrik Axelsen.

Photo: Diego azubel
Photo: Diego Azubel


Rivaling tour

As far back as 2018, when Viktor Axelsen's book "The Danish Dragon" was published, the confrontation was already being talked about. Badminton had been in great development for many years, but the framework and structure were not keeping up. Viktor wrote at the time that a revolution was coming, and the question was just when and what consequences it would have. We are still waiting for that – and according to Henrik Axelsen, a rivaling tournament may be the confrontation that can turn the tide in favor of the players.

"I am working to find the platform and partners that can transform badminton from a neglected backyard game to a world-class sport, with economic benefits that should go to the players. If all goes well, such a setup may see the light of day in 2024," says Henrik Axelsen.

Henrik Axelsen believes that major nations with more resources can create the party that makes badminton attractive. The sport is growing in Saudi Arabia and the neighboring countries, and the potential is there. But if the next step is to be taken, it must be done carefully.

So if a new reform is a marathon for the Axelsen family, they are on the right track. And even though the toughest part of the route may still be ahead of them, their heads are held high and their backs are straight. They have shown time and time again that it pays to be a pioneer, a pioneering team, and challenge the status quo in a constructive and positive way.

Photo: Diego azubel
Photo: Diego azubel


Tal og indsigter leveret fra BWF – FAN SUMMARY(2018 SURVEY).Tallene er fundet og beregnet af Above Sports analytikere samt nedenstående artikler.