By Kailash Kandpal
Kabaddi is an indigenous sport, which finds mention in ancient scriptures such as Mahabharata. It is also believed that Gautam Buddha was a great promoter of this sport and played it religiously with his peers.
With the inception of tournaments such as the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), the Kabaddi fever has now gripped the country and has become an instant hit in metros as well. With international tournaments such as the Asian Games, Kabaddi World Cup, and Kabaddi Masters Dubai, Kabaddi is gradually gaining popularity in other countries as well.
Playing a sport in the league format gives the sport a healthy competitive edge, nurtures hidden talent, gives a stadium experience for fans to relish, and gives a healthy dose of some nail-biting action.
The league format has helped bolster kabaddi’s popularity by:
- Raising awareness about the game in urban areas: Until 2014, kabaddi was popular in rural areas, but the league format has given kabaddi much-deserved institutional recognition. There has been a drastic change in people’s perception about the sport. Regular broadcast of matches, outdoor advertising, media coverage in national dailies and online portals, and digital marketing have created a lot of awareness about the sport amongst urban population. With its unique packaging, PKL has become more appealing to the urban youth well rural masses. Kabaddi is the second most watched sport in the country after cricket, and the 2017 finale of Pro Kabaddi League was the most watched non-cricketing event. Female viewership for kabaddi has also grown in recent past.
- Creating a platform for kabaddi players to showcase their talent: The league format with 12 different teams has opened a plethora of opportunities for the young and talented kabaddi players in the country. It allows them to showcase their Kabaddi skills and get due recognition for them. It has also helped in discovering the finest kabaddi talents in the country, who can represent India on international platforms. With Star Sports’ Future Kabaddi Stars programme, a lot of youngsters are scouted, and become a part of PKL’s auction pool.
- Increasing the remuneration of players: Over the years, we have seen a steady increase in remuneration of kabaddi players. The league has given a financial stability to players, thus providing them with an incentive to perform better. Since 2014, there has been a huge difference in the auction bid amounts. During the PKL Season 6 auctions, five Indian players and one Iranian player crossed the one crore mark. Going by last year’s figures, PKL Season 5 sponsorship income had increased by 320%.
- Boosting brand value: Many brands are seeing value in the sport and, as a result, are sponsoring kabaddi teams and reaching out to their target audience through them. Companies want to build good will for themselves by supporting a homegrown sport, and by contributing to its growth in the country. Kabaddi players are also endorsing products of brands which are associated with the Pro Kabaddi League.
- Providing a thrilling experience: PKL has transformed kabaddi into an edge-of-the-seat experience. Kabaddi in itself is a fast-paced game, and the short format of the matches keeps the audience hooked to them. Every 30 seconds, gripping action unfolds on the mat. Furthermore, celebrity endorsements and prominent brand sponsorships have given kabaddi the much-needed glam quotient.
All images in this article are courtesy of Team Puneri Paltan, and have been reproduced with permission.
Kailash Kandpal is CEO and team manager of the Puneri Paltan Kabaddi Team.