India has reinvented its age old game of kabaddi and is all set to host the Kabaddi World Cup this year. Indians across ages are taking to the game and behind this transformation, is the Pro Kabaddi League, organised and broadcasted by Star Sports.
The channel has repackaged the sport, which has resonated with the urban masses, and has been successful in creating a viewership niche for the game. The demand for it has propelled Star Sports to come out with two sessions of the League in 2016 and now the company is all set for the World Cup in October this year to be organised in the Indian state of Gujarat.
Nitin Kukreja, CEO, Star Sports, told BE, “The spectacular growth in viewership is testament to the journey that Kabaddi has made over the course of four seasons. Both the men’s and women’s games have been loved by Indian audiences and the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup will be another milestone in the journey of this spectacular sport.”
The success of Pro Kabaddi League is part of an era of multi-sport culture in India. The widely popular league has incentivized investing in this sport. This will positively impact the infrastructure and training facilities. The popularity of the League is inspiring youngsters to up the game.
Talking exclusively to BE, the captain of the Indian Kabaddi team, Anup Kumar said, “Before the League, the game was fading into oblivion. The League has regenerated interest in the game. Kabaddi players are becoming household names. The tournament has also ensured financial stability of the players. This means a lot as most of them hail from modest backgrounds.” Kumar, who captains the U Mumba team in the League, also mentioned that the League has brought to prominence players who are not a part of the national team and is providing them a great platform to showcase their skills.
Many of the national team players are participating in this League. The auctions this year saw Mohit Chillar becoming the highest bid by Bengaluru Bulls for `53 lakh. The Indian players stole the show at the auctions with players like Sandeep Narwal, Shabeer Bapu, Jeeva Kumar, and Jasmer Singh Ghulia making their names into the list of the top 10 bids of the season.
Kabaddi today is the second most viewed sport in India. The first season of Star Sports Pro Kabaddi reached 435 million viewers in 2014. Figures for Season 2 were not comparable to Season 1 because of the BARC-TAM (Broadcast Audience Research Council-Television Audience Measurement) changeover. However, the second season recorded a 53% growth in viewership over the first season for the first 49 matches. Furthermore, Season 3 of Star Sports Pro Kabaddi showed almost a 36% rise in viewership over the second season. This year, the Pro Kabaddi League recorded 4th consecutive season of viewership growth. The recently concluded Season 4 posted 10 million average impressions.
The Women’s Kabaddi Challenge saw India’s best women players hit the mat, delivering an average 6.7 million impressions on TV. This is 2.3 times higher than the previous viewership high of 2.9 million impressions recorded for the ICC Women’s World T20 2016 second semi-final game between New Zealand and West Indies, which was the highest rated women’s game till then. Women’s Kabaddi Challenge featured amongst the top 10 sporting events watched on TV in India, last year.
When the tournament started, it did not have any sponsors. But as it evolved and captured the imagination of the Indian masses, sponsors arrived. Season 4 saw a total of 12 sponsors as compared to 9 sponsors in Season 3. Brands like Airtel, SBI, Gionee Mobiles, Bajaj Electricals, Vini Cosmetics, Amazon, Fair & Lovely Men, Nestlé Munch, Castrol, Britannia, Bisleri, and Indo Nissin Foods feature in this list. Star Sport sources informed BE that 64 brands were associated with the League this year.
Deoraj Chatuvedi, Assistant Secretary, Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI), informed BE, “Kabaddi is a home-grown sport for India. To excel in it, the players need multiple sporting skill sets. He needs to be fast, needs to have strength, needs considerable agility and needs to apply his mind. Moreover, the game is physical and action packed. We always knew that the game had in it to be a favourite of the Indian masses. When the Pro Kabaddi League started, we knew it would be a hit.” He added, “Kabaddi has been a part of Asian Games for years. India has been doing well there but that did not increase its popularity. Moreover, when the team came back home, the 12 players of the national team were recognised. The League has brought into limelight a larger pool of players and has made the game more competitive.”
The League is also generating significant international interest. Star Sports sources informed that they are receiving cooperation from the kabaddi federations across the globe and the league is generating significant global interest. One international player, Fazel Atrachali, made the headlines with a bid of `38 lakh by Patna Pirates.