Monu Goyat, Manjeet Chillar, Rahul Chaudhari, Ajay Thakur etc- these names were unrecognized by most us probably a decade ago but if these names ring a bell in your head then you’re another Kabaddi admirer engulfed under the wave of popularity of the most ancient Indian sport that has been pioneered and dominated by India since it’s inception. A sport that was played on dusty grounds and generally not embraced by the urban flock has now become the second most viewed sport in India. So, how did Kabaddi make way into the households of billions across the country? The audience, as well as the attention accumulated, is still second to India’s premier cricket competitions but a new lease of life was found with the inception of Pro-Kabaddi League (PKL). The journey from being a fringe sport practised in the rural parts of India to the revival of India’s indigenous sport on a global level is interesting as well as perplexed.
‘XploreSports‘ makes an attempt to trace out how PKL has played a vital role in popularizing the homegrown sport and how the response by the Indian audience has given an opportunity to the promoters to bring the league back for its seventh season.
Pro-Kabaddi was a new entrant into the sports league influenced by the franchise model of IPL and in 2014, Mashal Sports – a company which was co-founded by Anand Mahindra and famous TV presenter Charu Sharma, acquired the rights to organize the league for a period of 10 years and the broadcasting rights were given to Star Sports who subsequently announced after the success of the inaugural season that it would acquire a 74% stake in the league’s parent company. Since then the hyperbolic marketing has vindicated optimism about Kabaddi’s capacity for growth.
With better viewership and sponsorship revenue the number of teams participating was escalated from 8 in the initial season to 12 teams owned by famous industrialists and celebrities giving the audience more number of enthralling matches to view with complete 40 minutes of entertainment.
The surge in Viewership-
While the organizers were sceptical about the involvement of audience before the league began, the inaugural season brought in staggering results of 435 million viewers from rural as well as urban cities. It was only 29% lower than the first season of IPL while the marketing cost was just 1/4th of it as PKL followed the caravan format which means that the cities hosted matches in clusters rather than have teams and multiple television crews criss-cross the country like they do in the IPL. Since Star media took over, the cumulative growth in viewership has risen rapidly at a rate of 51% over the course of its first 4 seasons and the online viewership also increased 1.3 crores of unique visitors. The previous season plunged a record of 26% surge in viewership and according to the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), season 6 recorded a total of 1,188 million impressions across 75 matches, compared with 1,601 million impressions in season five. Increase in viewership across states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka ensured that the PKL would also be aired in Telugu, Marathi and Kannada.
Sponsors and Economics of Pro-Kabaddi
Bollywood and PKL share a healthy relation and PKL used the film industry to leverage endorsement to its advantage. Amitabh Bachchan’s Le Panga song made enough impact on the urban crowd while Salman Khan and other regional stars were also called on to endorse “Panga”- that evoked a feeling of raid and aggression among the fans. PKL generates a massive profit from its broadcasters and with rising viewership, plenty of brands buy air time during commercial breaks that are estimated anywhere between 80,000-1 lakh for 10 seconds for the current season. Brand associations with a certain franchise also pull in a lot of revenue for the tournament and for the current season brands like Thums Up to Bajaj Electricals, Gillette, RR Cabel, Ultratech Cement and Britannia have agreed to endorse their product. In the previous 6 seasons, nearly 70 brands have been associated with the league and the franchises.
In 2017, Pro-Kabaddi became the first non-cricketing league that had a title sponsor and the rights were acquired by Chinese giants, Vivo for Rs 300 Crores for a period of 5 years. This resulted in an increase in total prize money that now stands at Rs. 8 crores, a 300% increase over the Rs. 2 crore consolidated prize money in the previous seasons. If we throw some light to the perspective of players and their income, the highest bid in the auctions for Season 1 was Rs.12.80 lakhs for the then-India captain Rakesh Kumar and now in the current season Siddharth Desai was bought by Telugu Titans for the highest winning bid of Rs 1.45 crore, this is how the league has evolved. From barely any recognition to being the front face and icons of Indian Kabaddi, Pro-Kabaddi has brought life to the players as well the sport that many thought already had one foot in its grave.
Pro-Kabaddi has not just gathered commercial success but has also maintained the status quo as a tournament that is away from controversies or any inside gimmicks. Like the “kabaddi, kabaddi” that the PKL’s raiders cannot stop chanting the trend of Pro-Kabaddi won’t stop evolving. No second thoughts that PKL has revitalised India’s age-old sport and with the subsequent progress commercially over the years there is no doubt that PKL may overtake the IPL as India’s premier sports broadcasting event in the coming future.