Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi...

For the past few weeks, a new routine had developed. Reach home from work. Switch on the TV. Put on Star Sports 2 and then spend the rest of evening and dinner watching ProKabaddi. But yesternight, there was no live Kabaddi on. So the TV was switched back off as there was nothing else to watch on prime time television.

India has been the undisputed world champion ever since the ancient sport went onto the international stage in the late 80s. The 1990 Beijing Asian Games marked the 1st international appearance of Kabaddi in multi-disciplinary sporting event, where it was India's sole gold winning event. And since then it has appeared in every single Asiad. And in the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, the women's event also made its debut. And every single time, India have been the dominant winners. Outside the Asian Games there have been various "world" championship events all of which ending with a victory for the Indian team.

For all its faults and controversies, the cricket IPL has given to the Indian sports, a template for a city based franchisee league model with teams built through player auctions and not restricted by geographical boundaries. A franchisee system with the live TV coverage has become the framework for umpteen "premier leagues" being created across sports. So we saw a Hockey and Badminton leagues and Tennis, Football and Boxing leagues in the planning stage. 

ProKabaddi, however, had one essential ingredient missing. The other leagues had the "star" players who could pull in the audiences. Kabaddi players were unknown. There were Arjuna awardees and multiple Asian Games Gold medalists but they were still unknown to the public at large. Only in hockey (1920s to 1950s), have we dominated any sport for a prolonged period of  time. Yet inspite of India's complete dominance, Kabaddi never went on to become a popularly watched sport. Every Indian sporting fan would have been aware of India's dominance in the event, but hardly anyone would have been able to name a single Indian player.

With this background, we watched the arrival of ProKabaddi League. The league did have have a big name backer in Mr. Anand Mahindra, who used his social media outreach for the promotion, The league's excellent twitter handle (@prokabaddi) was always on the alert to reach out to every potential interested twitter user. Thats how I was hooked on (:P).  A sports league handle interacting with users, without sounding like a bot & auto-replying does help. Regular updates on social media created enough buzz and was backed up by Star Sports who did a great job in promoting this new for television sport.

And so with immense buzz and a little hype the league started. Designed with TV audiences in mind, fast paced, relatively simple scoring rules, enthusiastic commentary and just a touch of glamour without going overboard (like they do in IPL) all combined to create a perfect viewing product. With each passing day the chatter on Twitter & Facebook increased. And I religiously watched as many games as possible. For the first time, in any league, I had a team based out of my home town to cheer for. In a matter of days, the Patna Pirates became my favorite sports team and the likes of Rakesh Kumar (also the India captain), Ravi Dalal and Sandeep Narwal became the favorite players. In fact tried booking the tickets for the finals, but they had all been sold out a week in advance. The team's loss in the semi-finals was disappointing to say the least but overall they had a good run finishing 3rd in the league.

So the first season has ended and a second one is coming in March next year. The league has been a success, becoming the second most watched sport in the country. A tremendous achievement for all the promoters and the players. However there still remain areas of improvement. Most of the TV news channels hardly seemed to cover the league. Personally I never saw any coverage on TV news though i don't watch much of it. Newspapers did provide regular match updates with the league tables. But there is scope for further increase in the coverage. A nation of 1.2 Billion with a voracious appetite for sports telecast can easily accommodate multiple sports.

Interestingly there was a parallel World Kabaddi League also taking place, albeit in a different format. But somehow did not gel with me.

Kudos to all the promoters and organisers for a successful tournament. Hoping to see the league grow further. Also this is a good lesson for all other sports in conducting a well-organised league.

Signing off with a ThighFive - Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi...

6 comments:

Monica Mahto said...

Come March 2015 and we'll get to see yet another splashing season. Thigh five!

Rahul suresh said...

nice work buddy....

Yogi Saraswat said...

This season of Pro Kabaddi was really amazing, inspired thousands of youth towards it beyond Cricket. Cricket is being now the game of " corporate to thief's" kabaddi is naturally Indian game and overwhelming response shows that it will be the game of India in coming years . wait for march 2015 for other sensational reason.

Nishant Kumar said...

Certainly... and match tickets to be booked in advance :)

Nishant Kumar said...

Thanks :)

Nishant Kumar said...

India has big enough population to sustain any number of sports. No reason why Kabaddi & Cricket can't co-exist