With no LIVE audience, PKL teams opt for digital innovation to connect with fans

UP Yoddha CEO Vinod Bisht on the upcoming league and brand sponsorships.

Mumbai: With a week left for the launch of Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) Season eight, the excitement is palpable among fans as well as the playing teams. For UP Yoddha, the latest edition offers another opportunity to level up their game from the play-offs and clinch the coveted trophy for the first time.

The team has consistently made it to the playoffs in every season since its inception in 2017, but has yet to win the title. “We are very excited to have the PKL return after a hiatus of almost two years. The players cannot wait to be back in the competitive environment. And, this time we are more focused and energised to reach the final step and lift the trophy,” says GMR League Games and UP Yoddha CEO Vinod Bisht in an exclusive chat with 

The team is all set to begin its campaign with a first match against defending champions Bengal Warriors on the opening day - 22 December. Unlike before, the latest edition of the league will be played without any LIVE audience due to Covid protocols, and with all teams integrated into a bio-bubble. But, that has not deterred the enthusiasm among the teams, says Bisht.

“The players’ will to win and competitiveness will only get fiercer. But, they are mindful of the changing scenarios, the absence of fans, and a testing bubble life,” says the CEO.

Bisht, a former commanding officer (CO) in the Indian Army started his Sports journey as a business mentor for Patna pirates in PKL, before teaming up with the UP Yoddha Franchise. Based in Greater Noida, the GMR Group-owned UP Yoddha franchise was introduced into the league in the fifth season and has been part of the league ever since.

Talking about the post-pandemic impact on the overall experience of the game, Bisht says, “We would have loved to have a full-house cheering for us on home ground, but we need to be cautious of the situation we are in. The safety of our fans is our top priority. With everything that’s happening around, everyone needs to adapt. We just want our players to play passionately, and our fans to enjoy the game even if it’s from the comfort of their home.”

All matches will be aired LIVE on Star Sports Network, the official broadcast network, and streamed on Disney+ Hotstar, which has already unveiled its mega campaign, #JoBhidegaWohBadhega, featuring former Indian cricket team skipper MS Dhoni.

Elaborating on how the franchise plans to elevate the experience for their fans who will be watching from home, Bisht says, “We are doing series of online activations involving our fans who we call the ‘Yoddha Toli’ and this Yodhha Toli will interact with our players and other fans through various innovative digital innovations.” The franchise will also focus more on social media interfaces, being mindful of the ongoing pandemic. “But, we definitely intend to meet all our fans at our state-of-the-art UP Yoddha BK Kabaddi Academy in Meerut once the season is over,” he adds.

ABP News has come on board as the principal sponsor of the UP Yoddha for the 2021-22 season, and the channel logo will feature prominently on the players’ jerseys. “We are the only kabaddi team from Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in India population-wise and given the ongoing situation it was physically impossible to reach all corners of the state, and that’s where ABP News comes in,” says Bisht on association with the news channel. “Considering the popularity of the league, the partnership will help ABP News connect with a wider audience by capturing the interest of sports consumers across both rural and urban markets in the Hindi speaking states.”

The partnership also comes at a time when the state of Uttar Pradesh is heading into polls, which creates its own buzz around activities associated with the state.

This season, the team has also upped its game with the addition of star player Pradeep Narwal for a whopping ₹1.65 crore, becoming one of the most expensive players auctioned at a league outside of cricket.

Talking about the growth in viewership of the sports event, Bisht says, “Kabaddi is one of those childhood games that you played with your friends, a sport that’s close to every Indian’s heart. It has been one of the most played sports in our country, and PKL has allowed teams to represent different parts of our country which shows how much the sport has grown over the years.”

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