MOVE OVER cricket, here comes kabbadi, hockey, tennis and soccer. This was the message that a slew of sports leagues sent out as they made their debut on the sports field this year. For years, it has been the game of cricket that has monopolised the attention of sports enthusiasts, advertisers and broadcasters alike. Not any longer. From Hockey India League to Indian Badminton League, Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League, Hero Indian Super League and Champions Tennis League, all these new sports tournaments are today fighting enthusiastically to get their share of the limelight and advertiser monies. Ironically, all of them took inspiration from the resounding success of the Twenty20 limited overs cricket tourney, Indian Premier League (IPL), the brainchild of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. "While the success of IPL has paved the way for such kinds of leagues, the other factor is that India fmally has sports stars such as Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna in tennis and Saina Nehwal in badminton doing well in the international arena. Hence the demand for other sports has increased," said Indranil Das Blah, COO of talent and sports management company CAA-Kwan, adding, "As for hockey, soccer and kabbadi, there was always a demand for such kinds of sports."
Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League, as the name suggests, is perhaps the first non-cricket tournament to be backed by a broadcaster. The league got 66 million television viewers (TAM data, CS4+) tuning in on the opening night of the tournament. The first season saw 435 million viewers (TAM data CS4+). On social media, 2.3 billion impressions were generated on the back of more than 200,000 conversations by more than 100,000 users with 92% conversations reflecting positive sentiment.
Hero ISL also sizzled on its debut with the Star Sports channels recording a viewership of 75 million. With a cumulative audience reach of 399 million viewers (TAM data CS4+) in the first eight weeks, ISL has surely got the ball rolling. "For us, this is not just about being the country's leading sports broadcaster. We want to build a platform that will help nurture heroes out of the millions of passionate, young sports fans across India. We want sports to be the trigger for creating and nurturing outstanding new opportunities for India's youth," said Uday Shankar, CEO, Star India. For the record, at the time of the launch of its sports channels in 2013 under the banner Star Sports, the network had announced its plans to invest more than Rs. 20,000 crore to expand its sports coverage in India.
Even as the IPL still remains the poster boy of advertisers, the new leagues too have found their own supporters. Several companies including utility vehicle maker Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M) and Future Group rode the Pro Kabbadi League wave. Similarly, ISL found sponsors in Hero MotoCorp, Maruti Suzuki, PepsiCo India, Amul, Muthoot Group, along with Puma and Dr Reddy's Nise Gel. Likewise, Qatar Airways and Coca-Cola are the two key sponsors of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL). Prasanna Krishnan, business head, Sony Six says that advertisers will pump in money based on delivery. "But each game has its own scale. It would be wrong to expect tennis to generate the kind viewership the IPL generates and even advertisers are aware of this. That is why despite golf being a niche game, the PGA Tour has managed to get luxury brands such as BMW and Rolex as its key sponsors," said Krishnan. For the record, Sony Six is the official broadcaster of the Champions Tennis League.