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Even Without Stars, Pro Kabaddi League Shines On The Indian Sports League Pantheon

Launched in 2014, the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), a professional-level Kabaddi league in India is today competing for space at the top pantheon of Indian sports leagues. But unlike other sports entities like the IPL (Indian Premier League) and ISL (Indian Super League), PKL doesn’t depend upon cherished sports stars like Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar, Baichung Bhutia, or Sunil Chhetri to garner viewership. Isn’t that just wonderful? But that doesn’t mean that this active sport hasn’t given us names to cherish. One of those, Deepak Niwas Hooda, the Indian National Kabaddi Captain and Skipper of the Jaipur franchise under PKL, is all praise for the role of PKL in the “actual growth of the sport” in the country. Recently, Hooda said, “The actual growth of Kabaddi and that so many people know us, has happened after the PKL came into being. Earlier, despite international tournaments taking place, very few people followed the game. Now, people follow what is seen or shown on TV.”

Having established itself as a headline competition, PKL has done so without big names or marketing blitzkrieg, though being backed by Star Sports has come with its fair share of polishing in the form of short, explanatory videos to engage the audience and sharpened physical appearances of the players. This has not just raised the sport’s profile ever since the league’s debut in 2014 but also helped the sport vie for a similar appreciation from the viewers as is enjoyed by cricket and football. By the end of PKL’s first season, 435 million viewers had watched the whole tournament while 86.4 million alone had stayed glued to the final on the TV. Months earlier, IPL had been viewed by 560 million people and the inaugural season of ISL was watched by 429 million, also in 2014. This viewership has been rising steadily for PKL through various seasons, pushing the growth of the financial strength of the league as well as helping its players establish themselves as stars loved by the nation.

Sports betting gurus Betway have created this nifty chart showing the interest in Indian sports over the last few years.

The praise has been coming in unabated. Saumya Khaitan, CEO of DoIT Sports Management, who owns the Dabang Delhi franchise, said in 2017 that it was a “very simple” decision to invest in the league in 2014 because they had a clear vision of what the league should be able to achieve. Even though the league began to turn in profits only by 2017-18, the vision of its founders and supporters had been realized by then. In 2016, when PKL staged two seasons, it raked in the moolah – Rs. 62 crore from team sponsorship and Rs. 122 crore from on-ground sponsorship. In Season 5 of the PKL contest, VIVO came on board as title sponsors, after the biggest non-cricket deal was signed in the history of Indian sport. At the same time, the prize money was also hiked up to Rs. 8 crores, which remains the same to date.

Even in wake of the current dominance of cricket in the country, it can still be safely said that the PKL easily is the second-most popular sporting competition in India. Despite clear disadvantages, PKL continues to keep pace with the IPL in terms of its viewership and sponsorship, which indicates plenty of scope for future growth in the years to come.

Some of the data here was taken from The Insider.

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