I think what PKL did was to bring Kabaddi out to mainstream attention particularly from a consumer's perspective.

Nitin Kukreja

Chief Executive Officer, IQuest Enterprises
By Sudipto Adhicary , New Delhi
Last updated : September 24, 2018 11:36 AM

In 4 years' time, the way PKL has grown and consequently Kabaddi, it is not hard to picture it as a rival to its cricketing sibling IPL. However, there's still a lot left. Digital and TV viewership metrics, meaningful associations, and high-level consumer engagements are yet to be explored completely. Brands need to tap into these new opportunities and leverage a property which has successfully shown that it has a pan-India appeal.

We interviewed Nitin Kukreja, CEO, IQuest Enterprises (an investment holding company having a presence across multiple industries including sports wherein its portfolio includes Pro Kabaddi League team Tamil Thalaivas), to know his views on the growing popularity of Kabaddi, along with Jolene Fernandes Solanki, Vice President, Madison Infinity and Sulina Menon, Chief Client Officer, OMD India.

Edited Excerpts

Kabaddi has been seen as a homegrown sport. Now with its urbanization, it is becoming popular in metros and among millennials. What are your views on it?

Kabaddi has been a popular, indigenous sport which almost every urban or rural Indian has played as a kid. I think what the league (Pro Kabaddi League) did was to bring it out to mainstream attention particularly from a consumer's perspective. Suddenly, it was on your screen in a manner that was very well packaged and you suddenly saw the great strength of the sport in terms of speed and agility. So, it brought about a stage for Kabaddi to be showcased.

With the addition of four new teams in season 5, PKL became India's biggest sporting league in terms of geographical representation with 12 franchises from 11 states on board. How would you predict its growth trajectory?

I think it has already reached a certain level in the 4 years' time but I think it is still very early days for the sport. Even with the trajectory over last four years, it is to my mind, just about scratching the surface. As it gets more urban attention, and continues to build on its grassroots; it is only going to get stronger from here. Also, the way Kabaddi grows will have different manifestations. You'll probably have more games and tournaments for team India, more women's games, children's games, school leagues; Kabaddi will grow in different forms and alongside that PKL will grow. Therefore, to say that PKL has gone from 8 teams to 12, is probably not the only or the right measure to look at. It is to see what the entire Kabaddi ecosystem grows to, which is the larger picture.

PKL is attracting bigger brands on board now. Is it on its way to becoming the IPL for brands? And would it be possible to replicate the same success as its cricketing sibling?

Over a period of time, why not? It should be the right ambition for PKL to attain the same level of popularity as IPL. Having said that, cricket was in mainstream attention for 4 or 5 decades and which allowed IPL to take off. Kabaddi is on a rapid rise, but there will be a journey to go through.

I think marketers are also waking up to the popularity of Kabaddi. After cricket, it is probably the only other piece of content which has a pan-India appeal outside of cricket and when I say that I would include movies, soaps, and movies. So if a serial is made in Hindi, it has appeal only in a Hindi speaking market and the broader diaspora attached with it. But when it comes to cricket or kabaddi or football, in that order, they have pan-India appeal. The geographical spread is probably achieved only through cricket, kabaddi, and football in that order. Within this, I think that marketers still need to look beyond how they have built brands through cricket which is largely inventory lead. They need to start looking for associations with teams and players to achieve their brand objectives. By that, I mean, even now a lot of marketers end up putting up a patch on the jersey and then use that for brand visibility. I don't think that is the only thing that a sports team offers whether it's in cricket or in football or Kabaddi. Meaningful associations can be built. Vivo has done that with a multi-year associations on IPL and PKL whereas I think that level of planning is still to percolate down to other brands as to how to associate with a team or a sport for multiple years.

For a sports-loving nation like ours, such properties mean unprecedented brand visibility and recall. What other factors do you think are attracting brands towards PKL?

There is obviously a TV and digital viewership metric which most marketers look at. But I think beyond that they also need to look at the ground activations and fan engagements that are done. Sports bring engagement with a consumer or a fan at a very high level, probably at the highest level, and it all depends how one taps into each of those engagement points whether online or on TV or on ground. There are various touch points that the sponsor can leverage by developing a meaningful relationship.

A league like PKL offers brands an opportunity for some unique activations, how can brands take advantage of such opportunities by doing customized activations.

We did a corporate Kabaddi event in Chennai where over a weekend, thousands of people visited the mall where it was being conducted. Now that's a great touch point for activations to be done by brands. Now if you start bringing the star players into the mix it starts becoming more and more meaningful. Another example is that a handset manufacturer can tie up with a distributor and use the sports team's appeal to promote its latest model at it distributors' outlet. The team's star players sending out the message to the consumer and the fan about the model would be a very meaningful way to build brand awareness rather than just being a spot on the jersey.

Points Of View

In 4 years' time, the way PKL has grown and consequently Kabaddi, it is not hard to picture it as a rival to its cricketing sibling IPL. However, there's still a lot left. Digital and TV viewership metrics, meaningful associations, and high-level consumer engagements are yet to be explored completely. With leagues like PKL offering a good mix of on-air visibility along with on-ground activation opportunities, how best do you think marketers can leverage this relatively new property?

Jolene Fernandes Solanki,
Vice President, Madison Infinity

Jolene Fernandes Solanki Jolene Fernandes Solanki

With the way India is performing in non- cricketing sports, it is the right time for the brands to leverage this opportunity. Just as IPL has been growing year on year, PKL has been showing growth year on year and will continue to grow with the way India's focus on non-cricketing games increases.

The opportunity to go more localized as PKL has 12 teams, Association with these teams at a regional / local level can benefit brands if done with the right impact. Brands who are not able to invest in huge moneys for IPL and also has a strong regional focus can benefit from the association here. Unlike our regular myths, Women viewers are increasing across non- cricketing sports. PKL also has 45% of women viewership coming from the platform.

Advertisers benefits from higher visibility on PKL as On- Air sponsors benefit from on-ground properties as well, hence lesser advertising clutter. It makes sense to also invest on digital at the same time, owning the property at a wholistic level.

Lastly, it's important to be true to an association. Stay invested, as any association takes time to build. Huge opportunity is since the sport is growing in the country brands can also build equity by help building and growing Kabaddi by motivating young Indians to play the sport.

Sulina Menon Sulina Menon

Sulina Menon,
Chief Client Officer, OMD India

The best way to leverage any sport/event is to include it as a campaign activation in the marketing plan rather than media only activation. In my view it is no different for PKL. Media only approach limits the potential for the brand. We have some great examples in IPL and what the brands have done. Therefore, PKL is a great opportunity to activate consumers and markets, trade, employees and all stakeholders to increase mind and sales measures for the brand.

First published : September 10, 2018 10:40 AM