Kabaddi – from muddy fields to commercial block buster

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The Business Capital of India is celebrating the commercial success of an indigenous Indian sports. Kabaddi, which has its historical roots in Tamil Nadu. The name kabaddi being derived from Tamil words kai-pidi, which mean holding the hands. The journey for kabaddi, better recognized as rural Indian combat team sports, has been long but no so glorious. There have been international destinations. Still, little international recognition. Precious little acceptance from urban masses in India, too.

For the rest of India, it was kaudi-kaudi for Punjab, hu tu tu for eastern India, chedugudu for Andhra; and internationally hadudu in Bangladesh – where the sport is also the national game – and bhavatik in Maldives.

There were World Cups. There were national games and national championships. There was a presentation event at the 1936 Berlin Games. The sport remained a regular feature at National Games ever since its introduction in 1938 and the Kabaddi Nationals started in 1972. India to its credit has all the seven Gold medals ever since kabaddi became a regular competitive Asian Games event in 1990.

For players, officials, administrators and the sport too there has been glory sans recognition. Then came the game changer – THE PRO KABADDI LEAUGE.

PKL THE GAME CHANGER

Then emerged the professional aspect of the sports. Mashal Sport, the STAR India subsidiary, took the task of carving the diamond ‘out of the unrecognized hard carbon component in coal mine’ – in the potential, the then status and growth of kabaddi.

From mud pits, it became a sport of coloured clothing, synthetic courts, lightings, music and television with celebrities standing in support.

PKL
Amitabh Bachchan at Inaugration ceremony

The season one has established the potential of the sport, laid to rest doubts if any about the commercial success. Season two consolidated that position, by season three there was acceptance in the market, commercial gains on excel sheets, still far from breaking even – but good enough for a commercial investment.

PKL
Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan at PKL event

Thereafter, as they say, is all a glorious history, leading into a path breaking future. In player franchisee agreements, in sponsorships, in franchisee fees, in TV ratings, in-stadia attendance. So on and so forth.

On TV, the league has become an extremely valuable proposition, with 435 million viewers tuning in for its very first season. Over the four seasons that have gone by, a cumulative viewership growth of 51% has been recorded, which is the highest for any competition of this kind in the country.

Supratik Sen, CEO, U Mumba speaking at the first Pro Kabaddi League Forum in Mumbai

In Andhra Pradesh, it even surpassed the Indian Premier League (IPL) and in Mumbai, it also achieved primetime slot leadership.

Another aspect where the league’s popularity is on display is on social media, where the Pro Kabaddi official accounts as well the individual team accounts enjoy huge fan followings and engagement. Dabang Delhi is the first team to reach a million likes on their official Facebook page, showing the massive audience for the team and the sport itself.

The official Facebook page of the league itself has close to one million followers and enjoys great engagement numbers on social media. Other teams such as Puneri Paltan and U Mumba have good numbers as well – with over half a million likes, which will increase rapidly as the new season starts.

Further, in terms of numbers PKL is the biggest league in the country. Season 5 will feature 12 teams – after four new ones were added, namely, UP Yoddha, Tamil Thalaivas, Haryana Steelers and Gujarat FortuneGiants – all four owned by some of the biggest corporate names in the nation. The latest edition, spanning a period of 13 weeks and with 130+ matches across 11 states to be played, will be a truly historic one!

On Wednesday, the best of national media, corporate, global sports analysts turned up in Mumbai to celebrate and analyse world’s fastest rising sporting discipline.

To enforce the point that it all takes to recongnise the potential, put in right planning and effort, driven by a strong self-belief and uncompromising commitment to derive the desired results.

STAR Sports and Mashal Sports have presented a perfect case study for growth and establishment of regional sporting disciplines the world over.

Kabaddi was a fading part of India’s rural culture. It has now emerged as a sporting culture for India within itself.

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