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Smart packaging, relevant marketing among key factors behind Pro Kabaddi League’s success

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MUMBAI: A game that was played in the inert Indian villages amidst mud and puddle garnered reach beyond expectations when telecast on television because of the way it was packaged. Quality non-reflecting mats replaced mud and puddle as the outdoor game was hosted in premier indoor stadiums and in turn offered fans a great viewing experience courtesy the Pro Kabbadi League (PKL), which was launched last year.

Kabaddi being a native sports always had space in the heart of people and hence when clubbed with quality packaging succeeded to make an impact instantaneously in viewers’ mind. Moreover, the organizers in association with federations twisted and turned the rules of the sport to rope in more opportunities of monetization.

To add to that, the who’s who of Bollywood were spotted cheering for their favourite team during Kabaddi matches in the first edition, which also drove their fan base into the sport. In the second edition, every game will start with a renowned dignitary singing the national anthem, the tournament kick started with Amitabh Bachchan singing Jana Gana Mana.

To cut a long story short, no stones have been left unturned to popularize and market the game to the viewers.

After detailed analysis, GroupM’s specialist business wing - GroupM ESP (Entertainment and Sports Partnerships) in association with IIM Ahmedabad released the key factors, which orchestrated the success story of Star Sports’ Pro Kabaddi League. In its debut year, PKL garnered a cumulative reach of 435 million. What’s more, in its second season, which is currently underway, Star and Mashal Sports expect it to be bigger and better.

Fan Acceptability of League: Kabaddi as a sport didn’t enjoy the huge native fan base to start with but a high decibel marketing campaign ensured relevance and the media push built hype to ensure viewer interest. Top notch game quality, best-in-the world talent pool & crisp program packaging made the league ‘likable’ amongst the audience, finds the research.

Choice of Sports: Choosing Kabaddi as the sport was a bold decision to start with considering player popularity being low in the country. But at the same time, Indian Kabaddi contingent has been immensely successful at the global stage over the years ensuring early survival of the league.

Game Format & Scheduling: Instead of aping the successful home and away format of the Indian Premier League (IPL), PKL went for a caravan format keeping the league short and crisp ensuring the league getting over before the initial hype died down.

Players: Being an indigenous sport, although the players aren’t well known names amongst the audience; the quality of talent pool participating in PKL has been the best in the world.

Design of The League: In the first season, the right holders managed to keep the expenses from central as well as team perspective under check beautifully making the league commercially viable and ensuring deep pockets for the team to spend on players. This in turn ensured level playing field between the eight teams making the league competitive right till the end and exhilarating for the audience.

Team Location: City based franchise enabled association with fans of that particular region resulting in captive fan base.

Fan Experience:

.   Kabaddi as a sport doesn’t demand major infrastructure making it easy to host the matches in equipped auditoriums/multipurpose stadiums. This makes the on-ground fan experience memorable.

.   Seek on-air production and packaging with informative commentary in regional languages helps build greater audience connect.  

.   Live streaming on Hotstar will add to the on the go audience.

League Federation Relationship: Pro Kabaddi League is a privately owned league, which is controlled and run by the league and the franchise owners bringing in accountability and professionalism. However, the league is sanctioned by international and national sports federation allowing the best talent in the world to participate.

Celebrity Involvement:  High profile celebrity owners ensuring stickiness to the sport. Celebrity owners also cashed in on their existing audience to build initial loyalty. Broadcaster capitalized on marquee sports properties by introducing Salman Khan and continuously associating with him and his movie Bajraangi Bhaijaan to build the buzz. Additionally, getting icons like Amitabh Bachchan to voice “Le Panga” anthem added to the celebrity fervor.

GroupM ESP sports and live events national director Vinit Karnik said, “Pro-Kabaddi League is a fine example of how a nation that is largely cricket-hungry can have its fair share of adulation, growth and success in a short span of time. It is heartening and optimistic for the business and growth of a sporting economy like ours. As a front-runner in the business of sports, ESP through this initiative listed all possible parameters that has made Pro-Kabaddi League a success. These findings are backed by the IIM-A and GroupM ESP report, a comprehensive paper that examines identifying factors for successful sporting leagues.”

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