The raider was swift, each step calculated with utmost precision and craftiness. With unwavering determination, he plunged towards his target. He was breathlessly swearing something and cautiously maneuvering the space around him as if his life belonged in that one movement.
No, I’m not describing a scene out of a thriller fiction novel. While the title of my article might have given it away, I am talking about one of India’s most culturally rooted sport- Kabaddi and now one of its most lucrative sports leagues- The Pro Kabaddi League.
What is Kabaddi?
For starters, it is not cricket.
Kabaddi (Pronounced- Kuh-Buh-Dee) is a contact sport involving seven active players on each side of a 33 ft × 43 ft. playing field. Players from each team alternate to act as “raiders” to fetch points for their teams.
The goal for each raider is to cross their half of the field, tag a player(s) of the opposing team and return safely to their side. Sounds simple, right? Maybe, a little twist would help. The raider must also chant the word “Kabaddi” incessantly without getting tackled.
A team earns points by getting the most tags (offensively) or defending the most raiders (defensively). Additionally, not chanting the “Kabaddi” mantra can get you out by default.
What is the Pro Kabaddi League?
The ripple effect of the Indian Premier League spread not only to commercialized Indian sports but also to hinterland sports such as Kabaddi. Initiated in 2014, the Pro (Professional) Kabaddi League has become one of the fastest growing leagues in India. For such a young league, it boasts an impressive roster of 12 teams not only from India but South Korea, Malaysia, Oman, Japan, and Iran amongst others.
Numbers don’t lie:
The online viewership increased to 13 million unique visitors this past season, which was 18.5 times that of last year’s unique visitors.
Additionally, the Pro Kabaddi League was watched by a total of 435 million viewers in its inaugural season in 2014.
- Players and Popularity:
The most expensive pick at the 2017 auction was Nitin Tomar who received $9.3 million (USD) to play for the U.P. Yoddhas. The auction saw over 400 players go under the spotlight.
- Owners and Popularity:
The chief proprietor, Star India is doubling its investment by growing the roster as well as the length of the league. This move comes after a growing demand for the sport. This will now give broadcasters a chance to draw greater value from the telecasts.
Owners include known and well regarded personalities such as Indian business moguls Gautam Adani and Kishore Biyani, Bollywood celebrities Abhishek Bachan and Ronnie Screwvala, and the Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar amongst others. Teams are well managed financially and are on the verge of breaking even as they rely on the central revenue pooling model.
What differentiated this league?
It is commendable to the owners and marketers who saw potential in a sport that had long been forgotten. With no household names and a lack of awareness on the sport, the owners managed to create a powerhouse of a league.
In my opinion, the fast-paced nature of the game, easy to learn rules, low to no cost equipment procurement and small set-up space helped push the league tremendously.
The season is well timed as it begins when the IPL season terminates, which avoids colluded attention from fans.
The league boasts of great international reach especially within the neighboring countries of India. Players from over 15 countries have shown participation. The league could be credited for having its own ripple effect as far out as Canada, Dubai and Pakistan which seem to be brewing their own Kabaddi leagues and tournaments.
For league owners, the next step is definitely to grow the league in terms of media and sponsorship rights. Despite the recent expansion, it hasn’t broken even yet. Though the goal doesn’t seem far off, it is imperative to move strategically.
A few potential advances down the line could be:
- Expansion into more countries to gain traction.
This could be hosting a potential game in an international venue and encouraging participation from other countries. This will also help Kabaddi strengthening its case as an Olympic sport.
- Solidifying and spreading Kabaddi’s awareness in the schools of India.
- Flourishing the league on the women’s side could be another point of contemplation.
All in all, while IPL might still be the highest profit-making league in the country, Kabaddi has to be a sport that has amassed the country’s grassroots and traditions.
Author: Ananya Sachdev is former national level Basketball player from India. She is pursuing her masters in Sports Management from Columbia University and is actively involved on the operational and digital side of various organizations within the sports industry. You can contact her on Linkedin.