The Pro-Kabaddi League (PKL) surprised many with the interest it evoked in its inaugural season. The lack of stars notwithstanding, the expectations are high as the second season kicks off in Mumbai on Saturday.
The tournament reached 435 million viewers — second only to the Indian Premier League (560 million) — but on the ground teams are still struggling to get the right price.
On an average each team spent about Rs 5-6 crore, including Rs 1-1.5 crore as franchise fee and another Rs 60 lakh as player costs and overheads. It is reported that nearly every team incurred a loss of close to Rs 3 crore in the inaugural season.
This year, the pool of players has been raised to 22 for each team, and the salary cap has increased from Rs 60 lakh to Rs 1.25 crore. Marketing too is an aspect teams are keeping a tab on, and an estimated rise in investment of Rs 1-2 crore is expected for each team.
After last season, sponsors showed a growing desire to associate themselves with the league. However, deals were struck for amounts as low as Rs 10-15 lakh. This year, the amounts have gone up to the tune of Rs 1-1.5 crore.
Targets have become pronounced with top teams such as defending champions Jaipur Pink Panthers and U Mumba already making long-term deals. The two teams are now hopeful of taking these numbers to close to Rs 6-7 crore and the bigger teams aiming at Rs 15 crore. Supratik Sen, CEO, sports, Unilazer, which runs U Mumba, says the company is looking at raising revenue close to Rs 12-15 crore.
“After the success of the first season, we have found a lot of interest from sponsors,” said Sen. “I would say we have met most of our targets so far. However, there have been instances where we would have liked a better valuation,” he added.
Like U Mumba, Jaipur too are looking to cash in on their success. It is learnt that they sold the jersey (front and back) for almost Rs 8 crore. Incidentally, both U Mumba and Jaipur had an asking rate of Rs 6 crore a year ago but had to settle for Rs 4 crore after negotiations.
Last year’s ratings have helped bring in sponsors for the broadcaster, Star India, but the sponsors have been a bit reluctant to spend when it comes to the teams. Till now, only U Mumba, Puneri Paltans and Bengaluru Bulls have announced their primary sponsors.
According to Bengaluru Bulls owner, Uday Sinh Wala, the team let go of opportunities to avoid devaluation of sponsorship slots. “Many teams, including us, have preferred to let go of certain sponsorship opportunities, just to avoid devaluation of products,” said Wala. “We are still some time from breaking even, however, there has been a conscious decision to avoid taking up sponsors below our expectations,” he added.
According to Tuhin Mishra, managing director of sports marketing firm, Baseline, there is still hesitation among sponsors to associate with kabaddi. “One has to consider the novelty in helping a league like PKL to flourish. The first season was a surprise hit and the magnitude of success took everyone by surprise. But it is consistency which will draw the big sponsors,” he said.
“This season, many PKL teams have spiked their ad rates, so not many sponsors will gamble in the second season. In many ways, this season will be the litmus test for the financial stability of the league,” he added.
Mishra felt the presence of other leagues such as the Indian Super League (ISL) has given advertisers a safer option, considering that kabaddi is not a conventional sport for TV.
Another reason that franchisees have decided not to reduce prices and therefore are ready to forego sponsorship opportunities as the arrangement they have with Star entitles them to a sizeable remuneration and not be completely dependent on sponsorship deals. In fact, Dabang Delhi, who are yet to finalise their sponsors, have gone ahead and slashed their in-stadia ticket prices. “Tickets for Dabang Delhi matches will be available for Rs 400 and Rs 350 and VIP tickets are priced at Rs 700. Our tickets sold at a much higher rate last season but this year we have consciously slashed the rate so that maximum fans can come and watch,” said Dabang Delhi owner Radha Kapoor.
"The viewership last year was a close second to IPL and attendance at stadiums was 92% across all venues. These are great signs for the game and gives us confidence that we will break even," she added.
Services stars to miss PKL again
While players from around the country and the world have arrived to participate in the Pro-Kabaddi League, those employed with the armed forces will have to miss out on the action.
Surjeet Singh and Rohit Kumar, who represent the Navy, are among a host of players from the Services who have been denied permission to participate in the franchise-based league.
This will be the second year running that the players have been denied a chance to ply their trade in the league. According to Deoraj Chaturvedi, CEO of the Indian Kabaddi Federation, the organisers have approached the Services Sports Control Board (SSCB) countless times but have not received a positive response.
SSCB secretary, PK Garg, was not available for comment despite repeated attempts.
Last year, Garg had told HT that the board had a policy that did not allow athletes from competing in professional or commercial leagues. The matter was later taken up to the Vice Chiefs who decided against giving permission to the athletes.
For Surjeet, who also represents the national team, it will be a frustrating period watching his peers in action sitting at home. “It has been a very disappointing period for me. I am just sitting at home, doing nothing. Despite playing for India, I will be doing nothing while my peers play in the league,” said Surjeet.
“Last year too, I faced a similar problem. But to represent the armed forces is an important part of my identity, so I have to make peace with the decisions that the board (SSCB) makes,” he added.