Pro Kabaddi League’s Mumbai team owner Ronnie Screwvala has alleged conflict of interest in the league ownership by Mashal Sports, owned by Star India. As the league has witnessed an unprecedented and unexpected fall in viewership, and media rights come up for renewal next year, franchisees are building pressure for the rights’ transparent and competitive auction next year.
National business daily Economic Times has reported Screwvala as saying that the Mashal Sports should auction the TV and digital rights of PKL separately for India and overseas markets.
“I believe the sum of the parts will be bigger than the whole when the rights for kabaddi get retendered for 2020 edition,” Screwvala has told senior business reporter and ET assistant editor Gaurav Laghate. “India is a critical market for all new generation content and media companies and I see Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Reliance Jio and Sony Pictures Networks (SPN) being strong contenders to either form an alliance or bid for the parts of this sport that will only grow over the next ten years.”
PKL media rights will come up for auction next year for a ten-year cycle, which will start from 2020. A first generation entrepreneur and philanthropist, Screwvala expecting the rights to value over $1.5 billion says that Mashal Sports will have to act in favour of the league. This is an obvious indicator from the franchisee that the league’s interests should not be compromised with the interest of Star India, the broadcaster. “Currently, there is a huge conflict of interest and when we reach out to Mashal, we don’t know if we are talking to the league owner or the broadcaster,” he said.
PKL media rights holder Star India also holds a majority stake in the league owner entity Mashal Sports. Franchisees are reportedly concerned that the Star India’s duel interest and influence might affect the league in exploiting media rights real worth.
Franchisee, going by the growth of the first four seasons, are expecting a windfall form the PKL media rights. “The PKL has been a very satisfying experience all around. The growth of the league and the viewership of the sport has been immense and continues to grow,” Jaipur Pink Panthers owner and Indian film action Abhishek Bachchan has told the business daily.
“With the media rights up for fresh bidding next year, I think we will see a big jump in the kind of figures we associate with the PKL.”
The paper, quoting market experts, has reported that Star India as the broadcaster might not like an open auction and that will potentially lead to the team owners to take a strong stand.
“It’s a double edged sword. I may want to acquire the rights, but what if I am allowed to keep the property only for 3 years? I will end up investing and making the property bigger, and Star will benefit. There has to be some clarity before we decided on PKL,” ET has quoted an anonymous OTT service senior executive as saying.
The franchisee are expected Mashal to ensure a robust and fair bidding process in the overall interest of the league. “We are very excited about Pro Kabaddi’s prospects,” Puneri Paltan owner Jay Kotak has reportedly said. “Mashal has fiduciary responsibility towards all its stakeholders. We expect that Star will avoid opaque decisions as a majority shareholder, ensuring a robust and fair process for the rights, at market value.”
“We are confident that the league management will act in a responsible manner to ensure that all stakeholders are able to derive the best value for the league. With the tremendous market there is for kabaddi in India, TV and Digital rights can unlock significant value for the league and we are hopeful that there will be an open, transparent bidding process, as can be expected from a professional league anywhere in the world,” adds Haryana Steelers franchisee owner Parth Jindal.
Team owners reportedly also have the right to oppose and force Mashal Sports to go for the auction of the media rights, if they are not satisfied with the value.
InsideSport Take: The stakeholders need to appreciate the fact that but for Star India’s vision, commitment and investments this indigenous Indian sport could have never become the sports’ biggest non-cricket commercial venture in the country. When kabaddi had little recognition but for quadrennial celebrations for the Asian Games success, Star Sport has invested not just financially but also in terms of broadcast values to make Pro Kabaddi League a property wroth ₹60 crore annual title sponsorship value – till date only second to the Indian Premier League.