Ultimate Kho Kho’s gameplan to take things to the next level

Plans include forming an off Grassroots League and an Ultimate Kho Kho Women’s League.


Mumbai: The organisers of Ultimate Kho Kho have announced that the league has achieved yet another milestone. The latest YouGov report revealed that the league reached an audience of 164 million across various media touch points, emerging among the top-three non-cricket leagues in India.

Presenting the indigenous sports in an excitingly revamped avatar, Kho-Kho, which is largely perceived as a rural sport, managed to capture the imagination of the urban elite viewers, with an equal split of urban and rural viewers and 70 per cent audiences from SEC AB. According to a YouGov sports report, 41 per cent of the overall viewing base was female audiences, which the Ultimate Kho Kho organisers say is quite good for a fairly new sport on television. The organisers also said that it is important to keep in mind that the results were achieved despite some major international tournaments that were going on, including the India-Pakistan clashes in the Asia Cup. 

Having achieved this, the aim is now to take things to the next level. Speaking to Indiantelevision.com Ultimate Kho Kho CEO, League Commissioner Tenzing Niyogi said that SportzSquare Ventures Pvt Ltd, (SSVPL) as the long-term Kho Kho league rights holder along with Kho Kho Federation of India (KKFI), is trying to get One-Format introduced in the sport of Kho Kho which will be available throughout the year. 

"Ultimate Kho Kho format is a proven solution which attracts faster play and consumer retention. Both on-ground and on-air audiences have appreciated Season 1. Rules have been formalised and will keep getting tuned at a finer level as the journey goes along. Also, it is critical that fans have regular access to unified content in order to stay connected with the sport. 

"SSVPL long term objective is to build brand Ultimate Kho Kho with effective extensions which changes in the Indian sporting eco-system in the shape and form of an off-field grassroots league and an Ultimate Kho Kho women’s league."

The Ultimate Kho Kho, he added, is looking to bring about a paradigm shift in how this sport is consumed in India. "The league will be focusing on creating a platform that will foster the growth of emerging sports in the country and provide a professional platform for the development of athletes and the growth of sports in India. The league will be looking to bring in best practices from international sports leagues, create a sustainable and equitable revenue model, introduce an engaging digital content strategy, and promote grassroots development by providing greater access to sports and training opportunities. The UKK league will also look to create a vibrant sports culture that will inspire and nurture the sporting culture of the country." 

Two seasons unlikely: But he added that it is unlikely that two seasons of the same league can be conducted in a single year following the covid-19 pandemic. The disruption caused by the pandemic, he explains, has drastically changed the world of sports, and leagues have had to significantly alter their schedules in order to accommodate the new reality. "With teams and athletes still trying to adjust to the new landscape, it is highly unlikely that two seasons of the same league can be conducted in a single year."

The Sponsorship Scene: On the revenue front, though, he said that the sponsorship talks have been very exciting for the second season. "We have had some great conversations with different sponsors who are interested in supporting us. Multiple brands from digital wallets, e-payments, aerated drinks, rural banking, mobile handsets, the auto industry, fintech, and martech are in the foray currently. The sports tech fantasy gaming segment has a keen eye on a sport like Kho Kho as it penetrates larger India where business traction lies."

"It has been great to see so many people interested in becoming part of this exciting venture. We have been overwhelmed by the number of interested parties and have been working hard to ensure that we select the right partners to join our team. We are also looking to ensure that our partners are committed to the long-term success of the team and that they understand the importance of collaboration, communication, and trust. We are incredibly excited to welcome our new team owners and look forward to working together to build a successful and sustainable team."

Breakeven: When asked about breakeven and profitability, he noted that typically for sports leagues, it would take the rights holders at least five to six years to break even and start making profits. Over 12 national professional sports leagues exist in India now, each at a different level of evolution. "Other than the IPL, most other operational leagues are today in what they call ‘the investment period.' Simply put, they are losing money today in the hope of making money tomorrow. But what I can point out straightaway is the critical factors that Ultimate Kho Kho has to make it a commercial success. 

  •     Popularity of the sport with a certain base following and interest around the country.
  •     Adaptability to television format, resulting in a spectacle product on-air. 
  •     Big stakeholders with a common goal to increase the commercial footprint.
  •     Marketable and scalable to the audiences and advertisers for appointment viewing and commercial touchpoints during the gameplay. The IPL is a success because it ticks all these points.

If popularity and viewership continue to rise as they did last season, the league's record will be broken even faster."

First Season Results: Talking about the progress made in the first season, he said that the season reached an audience of 164 million, making it the third largest league in the non-cricket genre in India. "We at Ultimate Kho Kho have also been pioneers in introducing many innovative technologies to the sport. We were the first to introduce a spidercam in an indoor sports arena in India, and the first season was produced with 19+ cameras and in five languages across Sony Sports Network and Sony Liv.

"Our ROO was high as we focused on delivering a world-class television product. We ensured to deliver a better visual experience. The idea was to leverage the established presence of SonyTEN and its broadcast capabilities, to create a platform for sports marketing and a spectacle that could be enjoyed across the 5 languages it broadcasts in, a multi-lingual broadcast that had a great reach and viewership across the nation. This was achieved by creating a unique experience for viewers to engage with, which included the introduction of new talent and shows, as well as the use of innovative technologies.

"We are happy to live up to the expectation of Ultimate Kho Kho being an appointment viewed sport on Prime Time. This was a big step forward for us and we hope to continue to build on our success and make UKK a prime-time staple in India. We surely did have our own challenges as a debutant sports league by  clashing with not one but TWO India Pakistan cricket matches in Asia Cup. Despite all that we had audiences and viewers to hit back on UKK matches. That is a significant step for a non-cricketing genre sport attempting to establish itself in a cricket-dominated country.

"We believe that it is our commitment to innovation that has made Kho Kho a resounding success in India, and we look forward to continuing to bring new technologies to the sport."

Key Learnings: On the learnings front he noted that the success of the new format of the league is proof that the viewers were open and receptive to the changes. The television production efforts paid off, he elaborates as the inaugural season achieved the highest reach for entire season and finals, top rated match, for the inaugural season in the past five years across all league, further demonstrating the readiness of the viewers to accept the new format. This shows that when the right format is presented to the viewers, they are open and willing to accept it.

Customer retention, he explains, is the key. The format was easy, people were well aware of the rules, which helped build easy connections and reduced breaktime between games during a doubleheader to keep the audience engaged and entertained.

In its new avatar hr said Ultimate Kho Kho managed to get higher traction from urban India, despite Kho-Kho always been perceived as rural sports. In addition to the franchisee states (Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Odisha, and Rajasthan), other states such as Karnataka, Delhi, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, and West Bengal showed traction for the sports.

Grassroots Investment is Key: He goes on to add that to ensure that Kho Kho reaches its full potential at the international level, investment is needed in all aspects of the sport, such as training and development, promoting the sport, creating good infrastructure, and forming strong partnerships with other federations. "We must also create an ecosystem where the players have access to the best coaches and resources to help them compete at the highest levels. This can be achieved by providing scholarships, grants and other incentives to young players who are passionate about the sport. 

"Further, we must also ensure that Kho Kho is integrated into the Indian education system, so that it can reach more people, especially children. Finally, we should also create and encourage a culture of sportsmanship and fair play so that the sport can be enjoyed by everyone and a sense of camaraderie can be built within the team. This will also go a long way in helping the sport reach its full potential."

He praised the Indian government for taking several steps to promote sports in the country, such as the establishment of the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF). "This fund is used to support the training and development of talented athletes and coaches. The government has also launched several initiatives, such as the Khelo India Scheme, the Fit India Movement, and the Target Olympic Podium Scheme, to promote sporting excellence in India. The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has also provided financial assistance to the state governments to develop sports infrastructure and facilities, and to encourage sports participation at the grassroots level. In addition, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) has been tasked with the responsibility of developing and promoting sports in the country. The Indian sports industry is also seeing an increase in direct foreign investments, which is boosting the sector's growth. Companies such as Sony, Star India and Reliance Jio have invested heavily in the sports industry in India. The increasing commercialisation of sports in India is also helping to create a vibrant sports culture."

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