Star India’s bet with Pro Kabaddi League gets a thumbs up

MUMBAI: Fans and advertisers who until now were most familiar with boundaries and record breaking centuries scored by cricketers in India are learning how to tackle a new game-Kabaddi which slowly yet steadily is raiding the hearts of many.

During the 37 day Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), a massive 435 million viewers tuned in to catch the action which is almost triple the number of people who watched FIFA World Cup 2014 in India.  When compared to the glitzy Indian Premiere League (IPL) which garnered 552 million viewers, Kabaddi undoubtedly has become India’s second most favourite sport after cricket for now. (Source: CS4+; Extrapolated from TAM panel).

A record 86.4 million people tuned in during the finale between Jaipur Pink Panthers and U-Mumba or three fourth of an average Indian Premier League match where the Abhishek Bachchan owned Jaipur Pink Panthers were crowned winners of the first season. Star has compared this number to global events like the FIFA World Cup, WWE Wrestlemania and Hockey World Cup and the Wimbledon Men’s final which recorded 24.6 million, 32.2 million, 10.4 million and 6.1 million respectively.

When asked what contributed to the contact sports success, Star India president sports Nitin Kukreja says, “To bring viewers closer to the game, we aired the action on prime time. We also invested a lot for building an entire facility for the matches in most cities where the league travelled, simply because of the lack of infrastructure for the game in India.”

According to Star India, one out of every four Indian TV viewers was watching the finale coverage between 8 pm and 10:30 pm on 31 August (All numbers are based on TAM panel reach using standard extrapolation estimates). Star says the ratings of 3.7 TVR in male 15+ABC TG is higher than most movie premiers and equivalent to top sporting events like IPL.

While women came in full gear to the stadiums to watch the matches, they also accounted for over 39 per cent of all viewership and children 22 per cent which has also broken the stereotype that this was only a male dominated sport.

On social media the league recorded a whopping 2.3 billion plus impressions during its successful run. Over 90 per cent comments and reactions noted on social media with regards to the league had a positive tone. Both 29 August and 31 August (series culmination day) generated the most ever daily conversations for the Star Sports Twitter handle with more than 25,000 tweets coming in each day. Kukreja informs that approximately 25 per cent of the total conversations happening on social media were initiated by women. “Never before has the Indian woman been so receptive to any other full contact sport,” he says.

In terms of production values, the global best-in-class production teams were put together from other full contact sports with the aim of offering an unadulterated viewing experience to the sports fans through live coverage of the games. This effort was supported by International Management Group (IMG), Prometheus and Alston Elliot. Along with using as many as 15 cameras to cover every piece of action during the league, the sport was analysed in terms of statistics to boost the perception of the game being a serious sport and make it more engaging for the viewers.

Kukreja informs that their marketing efforts were focused on creating a shift in perception to make Kabaddi relevant and aspirational to the urban youth. In order to create awareness and a sense of excitement around the league, they planned the promotion through an aggressive marketing campaign with the backing of the Star India network.

“Our strategy was to indulge in a 360 degree marketing plan and also promote PKL through outdoors, on-ground activities and radio. The TV campaigns portrayed Kabaddi like never before and were conceptualised to achieve a perception shift from Kabaddi being a poor man’s game to it being a cool sport,” he says. 

The on-air effort was complemented by a strong on-ground activation which got consumers across the eight franchise cities to experience the sport. These eight cities were Jaipur, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Pune, Vizag, Kolkata, and Patna. Bollywood celebrities like Salman Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra, Ajay Devgn and Anupam Kher added the glamour quotient to the league.

In November 2013, Star had committed an investment of Rs 20,000 crore to help grow a multi sports culture in India. And for Star India CEO Uday Shankar, PKL is a signal of their commitment to foster the same.

Indian businessman Anand G.Mahindra who set the vision for the game and is a co promoter of Mashal Sports along with popular commentator Charu Sharma said, “Charu and I feel humbled that our conviction in the potential and the popularity of the game has been vindicated.” In fact, looking at the success of the game, Mahindra also announced the second edition of the league that will kick off in March 2015.

While advertisers played a wait and watch game during this maiden season, Kukreja says that the interest from advertisers kept building up as the tournament’s reach and popularity exponentially increased week after week.  He says, “While we continue working towards building Pro Kabaddi as a premium property, we’re confident that there will be a rush from the advertisers in the next season.”

According to Group M ESP national director- entertainment sports and live events Vinit Karnik, while the industry was unsure initially, the league has performed above expectations and broken the perception that Kabaddi is a rural game. “Advertiser interest in the league has definitely increased, thanks to the surprise packaging of the game. The property should combine the on ground and on air packages together for the next season,” he opines.

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