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Pro Kabaddi can't have different on-ground and broadcast sponsors, says Star Sports' Anil Jayaraj

With 12 teams, 13 weeks and 138 matches, the Pro Kabaddi League is looking to engage with 20-22 brands as sponsors in its fifth season

Anil Jayaraj

Shedding the image of being a fuddy-duddy old school sport, Kabaddi is slowly growing to gain world popularity through the Pro Kabaddi League, which is in its fifth season right now. PKL 5 has grown bigger in terms of teams, matches, match days, number of advertisers and is expected to garner much higher revenue too, compared to PKL 4.

With 12 teams, 13 weeks and 138 matches, the league is looking to engage with close to 20-22 brands as sponsors in its fifth season that starts on July 28 with a match between Telugu Titans and Tamil Thalaivas. At the Media Forum organised for the announcement of Pro Kabaddi League 5, many stalwarts and players from the tournament spoke about the league.

Anupam Goswami

On the sidelines of the event, when asked about the highlights of the upcoming season, Anupam Goswami, League Commissioner, PKL said, “The biggest differentiator is the size of the tournament. It is massive and an impressive achievement. We have more than double the number of matches and the tenure is increasing. Four new geographies mean four new catchment areas of fans. PKL is expected to be seriously popular in Tamil Nadu. 46 per cent of the league’s players come from Haryana. We had done the world cup in Gujarat and we know how the sports enthusiasts responded there. Just like Haryana, UP is a hinterland of Kabaddi.”

The tournament had reportedly garnered Rs 70-80 crore from Season 4, with 11 sponsors riding on it. While the market grapevine points at about an 80 per cent increase in the expected revenue from Season 5, Anil Jayaraj, EVP and Head, Ad Sales, Star Sports refuses to share any information on this. “While I can’t divulge any numbers on the expected revenues, I am sure that Kabaddi (through PKL) will be the No. 2 sport in the country, after cricket.”

In his presentation at the same event, Jayaraj did make a point saying, “If revenue for Season 2 was indexed at 100, we are expecting season 5 to index at 400.”

Season 1 went without sponsorship and Season 2 had nine sponsors, while the last season that ended in June 2016, enjoyed 12 central sponsors and about 52 franchisee brands. This year, the league is expecting about 20-22 central sponsors, which testifies how big the league has grown in merely five years.

Even if the sport is more of a home-grown one and nostalgic, the tournament has a myriad of sponsors – both home-grown and multi-national. “In season 4, about 60 per cent of the total advertisers were multi-national companies, while 40 per cent were domestic-grown companies,” said Jayaraj.

These brands include home-grown brands like TVS, Bajaj and Mahindra, and multi-national brands like Coca Cola, Castrol and Amazon.

While Kabaddi’s viewership comes from across the country, rural markets have shown a consistent share in the viewership recorded in each of the earlier seasons. However, urban markets remain more monetisable than rural markets. Jayaraj doesn’t feel so, and said, “For Kabaddi, there is no disparity between urban/rural or young/old or male/female ratios. Other sports are generally male skewed and SEC ABC skewed, while Kabaddi is universal. What advertisers generally look for is consistent and growing viewership and that is being delivered. This makes PKL an interesting property for the brands.”

It is interesting to note how Star Sports has tried developing many non-cricketing sports like football (through Indian Super League), badminton (Pro Badminton League) and hockey (Hockey India League). However, Kabaddi is the only one that has picked up too fast and too high. Was it the advertisers who didn’t find enough value in these sports or was it the viewership that fell flat? Jayaraj answered, “It is always driven by viewership. Viewership leads advertisers because the brands come aboard only if there is viewership in any sport. Badminton is a niche sport, but the fact that all Indians are doing well has meant that there is renewed interest. Last year, Vodafone came in as the title sponsor for three years and this year too, they will stay on. Comparatively, the Indian men and women are doing very well on the global map and that creates a lot of interest. It will do well.”

Even for football, Jayaraj mentioned that the positive performance of the Indian national team will help rejuvenate the sport and that a big announcement on ISL is round the corner.

Considering the Vivo-IPL deal, the sports properties are enjoying a high time for sponsorships. Vivo is also the title sponsor for PKL and the rights were reportedly bought for Rs 300 crore. Could the fastest growing sports property have raked in more money? It might be because it’s an upcoming sport and one had to keep it affordable sport for the advertiser interest to remain active.

Jayaraj, in his presentation, had also pointed out that Kabaddi is a sport that can appeal across the country in one shot. “With Hindi GEC/ movies, advertiser gets great reach but would not cover the south. English news appeals to urban audience.”

He also stated that while commercialisation is sometimes not a nice word, but if the ecosystem is not making money then sustenance becomes an issue. “That’s why I feel that commercialisation should be one of the agenda points. Cricket sponsorship works very differently than that of Kabaddi. While Vivo is the on-ground title sponsor for IPL, if Oppo wants to buy out the title sponsorship for the broadcast property on Set Max, it can very well do it. It can be an ‘Oppo presents Vivo IPL’ or ‘Vivo IPL presented by Oppo’ on Set Max. Cricket is a big giant and can afford to do this. PKL doesn’t work like that. Here, the on-ground and broadcast title sponsorship is sold by Star Sports in a single package. Hence, there is no chance that you will be out shouted within your own category and this is a very big deal for a lot of advertisers.”

While it is good news that the sport will now be played for 13 straight weeks, wouldn’t sustenance of viewership pose a challenge? Goswami chooses to take it as an opportunity. “In sport, so far, the experience has been that if you are offering more, the appetite increases. We are confident that we will resolve this issue, we take it as an opportunity, not a challenge.”

Also, the league has, since the start, seen extensive involvement from the Bollywood and cricket personalities. Has that helped the tourney too? Goswami agrees, saying, “Celebrity quotient is extremely important for sports. But we have got an extremely large number of sports followers who are coming in especially for the sport. For any other sport, the digital articulation from women is about 7-8 per cent. For Kabaddi season 1, it is 16 per cent. This is a big story.”

Lastly, everyone knows that the women’s champions matches played in the last season saw amazing viewership and lot of traction on social media. Isn’t it a good time to launch a women’s Kabaddi league then? “Whenever we start the women’s league, it will be a notch higher than the PKL. We don’t want to launch it on a lower level than this. We are working with some of the talent we spotted and we will bring a women’s league. We want to keep on developing the league. We should do it at the absolute break-out level. There would be no women’s champions matches this time.”

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