Last month when Kishore Biyani, owner of Future Group, walked into DDB Mudra's office, he found the advertising agency's Asia Pacific head and the entire team playing a friendly game of kabaddi there.
He wasn't surprised. The Pro Kabaddi League was on and Biyani, owner of Kolkata team Bengal Warriors, was aware how the walls of prejudice against the traditional Indian sport were collapsing rapidly, with people across Indian cities and towns crowding around televisions to catch the action and discussing it on social networks.
More than 435 million people — including a significant number of urban, affluent Indians and women — watched the month-long tournament on television, not too far from 552 million cumulative viewership of the latest edition of the Indian Premier League.
This has given the stakeholders — owners of the eight teams in the league, broadcaster Star Sports and organiser Mashal Sports — confidence that their investments will start paying back much sooner than they expected. "We didn't think of money in the first year but now I am thinking there could be big money there. People have got the flavour of the game," said Biyani. Most teams held back on sponsorship in the first year as they had decided not to sell cheap.
Ronnie Screwvala, former UTV boss and owner of Pro Kabaddi Mumbai franchise, said that not selling sponsorship in the first year and the game making a splash will help the league make a great start in season two. "Breakeven will be shorter than any other sporting team or league I think," he said.
Women accounted for 34 per cent viewership of Pro Kabaddi in season one. With SEC (social economic class) AB contributing 40 per cent of viewership and metros accounting for 30 per cent, the league belied marketers' perception that it was going to be watched predominantly in rural areas.
"The myth of the marketers has been broken. There is no rural-urban divide. It's all one big market," said Biyani, whose nephew Nikunj Biyani and Future Group's president for customer strategy Sandip Tarkas run the Kolkata franchise. "There was this imagery that it was just a rural sport. In the beginning marketers said it's best suited to rural advertising," he said.
This showed in the kind of sponsors, though limited, the league attracted initially. Shakti Pumps, for instance, said on its website, "The tie up (with Abhishek Bachchan's Jaipur team) is yet another initiative by the company to reach out to the core customer base farmers...This homegrown game is widely popular in rural India where our farmers live."
This perception of kabaddi as an essentially rural sport began to change when viewership numbers started pouring in.
"By giving a national feel we have demystified that it's only popular in some parts of India," Screwvala said.
While several brands including Fevicol, Bajaj Electricals, Emami, Lenskart and Future Generali associated with different teams, none of the eight franchises made money in the first year.
Charu Sharma, managing director of Mashal Sports, said, "If the game does well, the money will follow."
His partner and brother-in-law, industrialist Anand Mahindra, said he had thought it would take five to six years to garner the kind of viewership Pro Kabaddi managed in the first year. "It was like going for bungee jumping, not knowing what to expect," he said.
Broadcaster Star is elated. "These (viewership) numbers will help us sell better next year," said Sanjay Gupta, chief operating officer at Star India. "A lot of brands were keen this year, but next year will be even better."
The next edition of Pro Kabaddi is being planned early in March 2015 and a lot of brands have already shown interest.
Biyani said his Future group brands will advertise and so will many other consumer durables, telecom, fashion and other brands.
Screwvala said a strong mix of urban and mass brands—from Adidas to telcos to bike companies and auto companies to a lifebuoy—have approached them.
What's exciting for advertisers and marketers looking at the game, besides its TV viewership, is that stadiums across all cities were packed.
People who follow the sport closely would not be too surprised though. After all there are more than 10,000 kabaddi clubs in the country—hundreds of them in Haryana, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and other states, and about 3,500 of them just in Maharashtra alone.
That shows there are thousands of kabaddi players in the country and so far even the best of them could not make a living out of it. Pro Kabaddi promises to change that, if it can retain its popularity.
"This is a new start. We are now getting a different level of recognition and our future seems secure," said Navneet Gautam, star defender for Abhishek Bachchan's Jaipur team that won the first Pro Kabaddi title. "Only 12 of us play for the Indian team but there are many other who are good players. This league gives them a chance too," he said.
Gautam, a national player, works with ONGC as a security officer but gets to spend all his time for kabaddi.
Mashal Sports spent close to Rs 17 crore on organising the event, which included the prize money, marketing costs, and venue cost from the knockout stage onwards, while Star spent over Rs 100 crore for production and marketing of the tournament. Each of the teams spent between Rs 5-6 crore for paying its players, staff, logistics and venue fees during the league stages.
Teams essentially make money from three sources—the central pool that is enriched by sponsorship money and broadcast rights, their own sponsorship deals and ticket sales. This year the organiser and the broadcaster took care of the central pool so that teams got their due.
According to estimates, each of the teams would have made anywhere between Rs 1.5-3 crore, and that without too many sponsors, giving us a glimpse of the potential that the league holds for these teams considering the 435 million viewers that advertisers and sponsors will be vying for.
Source: Econominc Times