Dominance of cricket challenged: Celebs promote other sports

Cricket, once the big beast of sports in India, losing ground to kabaddi, football and mixed martial arts, which are all getting endorsement from top stars.

bollywood Updated: Feb 21, 2017 07:37 IST
Anjali Thakur
Anjali Thakur
Hindustan Times
Bollywood,Kabaddi,Super Fight League
Actor Abhishek Bachchan owns the team Jaipur Pink Panthers in Pro Kabaddi League.(Santosh Hirlekar/PTI)

The association between celebrities and sports truly took off with the Indian Premier League, when actors Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla, Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty invested in their teams, generating intense interest in the T20 league. A few years down the line, the situation has changed.

While cricket still gets more eyeballs than any other game in this country, its absolute dominance has waned. Even as the 2017 IPL auction took place (on February 20), other sporting disciplines such as kabaddi, football and mixed martial arts could boast support from high-profile personalities — actors Ajay Devgn, Arjun Rampal, Randeep Hooda, Tiger Shroff and Jacqueline Fernandez are a few names to join the bandwagon. Some of these stars are not just promoting, but also investing e.g. in the Pro Kabaddi League and Super Fight League (mixed martial arts).

Ajay Devgn, who owns the team Mumbai Maniacs, a part of the Super Fight League, says, “I love this sport, because somehow I’m connected to action. It’s fun, exciting and very challenging and gives an adrenaline rush. That’s why I wanted to be a part of this, after we saw how it happens in the US.” Devgn is himself an advanced exponent of taekwondo, a form of martial arts from Korea.

Actors Ajay Devgn (centre) and Arjun Rampal also own teams in Super Fight League (mixed martial arts). (PTI)

Fitness enthusiast Arjun Rampal, who was in the Capital for a Super Fight League match this past weekend, also finds mixed martial arts “extremely exciting” with “a huge potential” in India. “I think mixed martial arts will grow very rapidly,” he says. “We want to promote this, and take it to the grassroots level of India. It takes a lot of guts to practise this sport.”

One of the most visible backers of a sport other than cricket is Abhishek Bachchan, whose enthusiastic involvement in the Pro Kabaddi League — his team is called Jaipur Pink Panthers — gave this game a makeover on the national stage. Traditionally played across India in non-urban regions, kabaddi now draws masses of spectators in city stadiums. “I’m passionate about sport. I’d love to be an agent who can change India’s attitude towards sport,” said Abhishek in an earlier media interview. “I’ve invested a lot of hard-earned money in kabaddi and football. So, I take it very seriously and I’d love for everybody and the nation to take it seriously.”

Actor Juhi Chawla cheers for Kolkata Knight Riders during the IPL Twenty20 match. (MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP)

Investment in a sport is a blend of passion and profit for celebrities. Juhi Chawla says, “The IPL surely got the ball rolling for a marriage between sports and the film industry, and I think it has been beneficial for both. There has been a trend of celebrity owners after the first IPL, and it’s a mutually beneficial marketing relationship, in which both parties increase their exposure. Who said stars can only dance and act? They definitely have more than what meets the eye — the business acumen.”

Arbaaz Khan, who was in Delhi to promote his upcoming movie, has also shown an interest in investing in a sport. He says, “I love cricket and for me, everything begins and ends with cricket. But if I get a chance, I’d like to invest in boxing or wrestling.”

First Published: Feb 20, 2017 18:58 IST