Five reasons why Pro Kabaddi League is a hit and not a hype

MUMBAI: When the first edition Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) garnered enormous fan following, many a naysayers pooh-poohed it as a one-time wonder. Media pundits even predicted an out of mind - out of sight situation. However, PKL’s second season has certainly managed to zip the lips of the killjoys and their critical analysis.


While Ronnie Screwvala’s UMumba won against hard fought Bengaluru Bulls to win the tourney, the larger victory was of the format as PKL season 2 saw constant acceleration in each and every rating parameter. In the first edition of the tournament, there were no brands involved. However, the second edition saw multiple brands associating with the game, which only goes on to prove that the league was not only acknowledged by sport enthusiasts but also saw commercial interest peaking.


Based on an interaction with various people involved in the execution of PKL, lists five broad reasons as to why PKL is a hit format and not just buoyed temporarily by hype.


Star India and its 360 degree packaging


Broadcaster and owning partner of the league Star India left no stone unturned to make it an extraordinary exhibition. From special point of view commentators to multilingual feed, from quality pre and post match programming to timely highlights, Star was right up to the mark on every aspect. “You cannot ask for anything more when it comes to TV presentation, Star has covered it all,” says Mashal Sports director Charu Sharma.


Not just TV, thanks to Star’s OTT platform Hotstar, the league matches were easily available for streaming on mobile platforms too. Star created Kabaddi based original content featuring Ranvijay Singha in Le Panga and Javed Jafri in Jabaddi to keep the buzz going on digital platforms.


To the point Marketing


All marketing and promotional steps that were taken before and during the league had a clear purpose and concise message. Kabaddi is a native sport played all across the country by a certain group of people and it was very important to connect to them. PKL’s TVCs that were launched this year had mass connect and social impact. The journey began with Le Panga where a young boy litters in the middle of the road. Seeing that, a few senior citizens approach him in a deadly way chanting ‘Kabaddi Kabaddi.’ The young boy picks the trash up and gently throws it into the dustbin.


This year’s campaign actually kick-started with Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan singing PKL season 2’s anthem Le Panga. The social and emotional connect was kept intact even during the matches as every match started with the National Anthem. Indians follow their heroes and like to talk about them and Star made full use of that very philosophy. Every city saw an icon singing the national anthem, Bachchan in Mumbai, Sourav Ganguly in Kolkata, Sunidhi Chauhan, Allu Arjun in South India and Alia Bhatt in the finals. The organisers also teamed up with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hygiene campaign ‘Swachh Bharat’ to give it a boost and enhance social connect.


Strong Revenue Generation


While the broadcaster did not have any brands on board in the first edition of the tournament, this time round as many as eight associate sponsors and two partners were on board. The broadcaster is said to have made more than Rs 55 crore from season 2. “From 0 to Rs 55 crore is a big jump forward. If the format will stay or not, is now out of question. The question now is on how big will it grow. If the fundamentals are not struck by an unwanted force, I see the sport creating history in the near future,” says an expert on condition of anonymity.


At this stage the league looks to be a profitable proposition not just for the broadcaster but for the franchises too. If sources are to be believed, UMumba has already broken even in terms of revenue generation. 


Even Bengaluru Bulls is close to breaking even. Bengaluru Bulls promoting company Kosmik Global CEO Uday Sinh Wala says, “We are close to breaking even. We would have drawn level this year if only we had not refused to sell cheap. There are not many leagues in the world where you can think of drawing level at the end of the second season.”


UMumba generated maximum revenue from sponsorships followed by Bangaluru Bulls who charged Rs 1.5 crore for the title sponsor’s slot. Franchises are looking towards a 15 per cent increase in their revenue generation next season, which will definitely get them closer to level.


Twice a year proposition


With more and more sporting actions springing up month on month, the one year wait might turn out to be a tad too much. Hence Star India has now decided to hold the league twice a year. “While the wait is good, too much action is bad. However, too much wait may lead to out of mind - out of sight situation, which is dangerous. Why take the dangerous route? The twice a year proposition looks promising as the sport will have way more exposure. I believe the interest level will go up, and people will enjoy the tournament with same enthusiasm twice a year,” says Sinh Wala, welcoming the move.


Close association between Federation and League owners


Star India and Mashal Sports work very closely with International Kabaddi Federation (IKF) and Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI) to ensure smooth processing. A conflict between the two can often take the flair out of the game but for PKL, it’s not an issue. Moreover, there isn’t a situation where players are not available to play or are restricted by the authorities.


According to Sharma, PKL’s biggest success lies in the success of the honest and humble Kabaddi players. “The players are now known to everybody in the entire country. They have an identity. They always made India proud, yet no one ever tried to know them. We are number one in Kabaddi and still no one bothered to talk about it. Now the entire world wants to take part in this event and that’s the outcome of PKL,” he adds.


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