Star Sports ups the ante with Pro Kabaddi League

By Prachi Srivastava , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | July 25, 2014
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Star Sports 2 has released a promotional campaign for Pro Kabaddi League that kicks off tomorrow. A look at the campaign and the sport.

Pro Kabaddi League teams

The success of cricket's Indian Premier League (IPL) has not only furthered the popularity of the game, but has also spawned model leagues in other sports with a similar format. Leagues for football, badminton, hockey and now a homegrown sport, kabaddi are the flavour of the day.

Screenshot of Pro Kabaddi League ad

Screenshot of Pro Kabaddi League ad

Screenshot of Pro Kabaddi League ad

Screenshot of Pro Kabaddi League ad

The 'Business of Sports', a 2014 report by KPMG-CII (Confederation of Indian Industry), takes note of the phenomenon. It says that the reasonable success of the Indian Badminton League (IBL) and the Hockey India League (HIL) - sports that don't enjoy the same popularity as cricket - has shown that leagues are a good medium for generating interest and driving sports culture besides the potential RoI...

But here is the million-dollar question: is the nation ready to watch a nearly forgotten sport like kabaddi, even if there is a glitzy league - and a glitzier campaign - to prop it up? Ogilvy & Mather's ad campaign for the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) might just help generate interest around the game.

About the league

Mashal Sports, a sports management company, that is focused on bringing the excitement back to traditional Indian sports, plans to take the indigenous sport of kabaddi to levels of new professionalism. The company's board includes names like Anand Mahindra, Charu Sharma and Piyush Pandey. Beginning tomorrow, the PKL will be played on a caravan basis with the eight teams - representing eight cities - in the fray, playing each other twice.

According to the organisers, who call the launch of PKL a "bold step", the league will highlight the "new, modern, international and competitive face of kabaddi throughout the length and breadth of the country, and beyond." The tournament will have 60 matches and will be aired on Star Sports 2 and simulcast on Star India's Hindi movie channel, Star Gold. The tournament will also be streamed live on

A revolution?

The teams are owned by well-known people like Ronnie Screwvala (Mumbai team - U Mumba), Abhishek Bachchan (Jaipur Pink Panthers), Kishor Biyani (Bengal Warriors), Radha Kapoor (Dubang Delhi), Rajesh Shah (Patna Pirates), Sumanlal Shah (Puneri Paltan), Srinivasan Sreeramaneni (Telugu Titans). The eighth team, Bengaluru Bulls is owned by Kosmik Global Media.

Rajesh Shah

Darshan M

With Star backing it, the league is expected to give the sport some recognition and the right push. According to Shah of Patna Pirates, kabaddi is an Indian game with historical relevance and has the potential to become a global sport. "Kabaddi is appreciated in the rural community in the country. At the same time, it is also played in the Asian Games with well-defined rules. This is the first time the sport is being promoted at this scale," he says.

Darshan M, director at Spoment Ventures, believes that the PKL is a good initiative to revive a dying Indian sport. But having said that, he cautions that the sport will appeal primarily to the population in the hinterland and rural areas.

However, Darshan feels that since kabaddi is not an aspirational sport it is not going to "set TV viewership on fire." He feels that telecasting it on Doordarshan may get a better audience from rural markets. "Women audiences are highly unlikely and SEC B, C and D would be ideal targets. It will remain a niche rural sport and that's it," he asserts.

PKL has the formal backing of the International Kabaddi Federation (IKF), the Asian Kabaddi Federation (AKF) and the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI). Kabaddi lovers are in for a good time - the PKL will be followed by another tournament called the World Kabaddi League that will be aired on Sony Six.

Kabaddi, kabaddi...

Ogilvy & Mather has created two sets of ad commercials to promote PKL. The first set of thematic films - including one 30-seconder and a few 10-seconder teaser films - feature short stunning visuals and action-packed moments without revealing the sport. This was amplified by #GuessTheGame on social media. The campaign aimed at creating intrigue about a new sport while highlighting the inherent athleticism of the sport.

Abhijit Avasthi

The second set of films intends to draw a parallel between the spirit of the game and life. One film features old people, while the other features a bunch of school children. The thought is, "Jeet-te Hain Wohi Jo Haar Nahin Mante". There is a line which separates one from his target and one needs to go beyond that line to achieve what he wants. The symbolism is clear - a game of Kabaddi is played on two sides of a physical line that the players need to touch/cross in order to win.

The insight behind the 'Life Is Kabaddi' leg of the campaign is that in life, the grit and perseverance needed to achieve what always seems to be out of reach is very similar to the spirit of kabaddi. In kabaddi, a raider invades the opponent's territory, tries to 'tag' at least one opponent and return to his home ground while making sure that he has not inhaled at all during the entire time. If he does so he is out.

Throwing light on the insight of the two campaigns, Abhijit Avasthi, NCD, O&M, says, "The sport has been forgotten by today's generation. The imagery of it being a 'mud sport' wasn't helping either. Kabaddi needed a cool new look. We wanted people to reconnect with the game on an emotional level as well."

Don't hold your breath

Sandhya Srinivasan

Vineet Bajpai

In India, the makers of any ad campaign - for a sport that is not cricket - have to shoulder the responsibility of promoting not just the tournament in question but also the sport at large. How do our expert view the situation?

Sandhya Srinivasan, CSO and managing partner, L&K Saatchi & Saatchi, feels that for the many who don't know the sport, the films would create little interest. "It's glossy, but quite removed from the reality of how kabaddi is played given that it is a raw contact sport." The style of execution might just get people to sample the first few matches, she muses. There is one more TVC which features Salman Khan and is an integrated effort to promote both, the league and his movie 'Kick' that releases today.

Vineet Bajpai, Group CEO, TBWA India, feels the first ad gives a rugged, yet sophisticated look-and-and feel to the sport, something he opines is a "much-needed approach since traditionally kabaddi is viewed as a lower-end, if not semi-rural sport." He also points out that a sprinkle of emotion, along with pure-play sweat and blood, would have helped. Putting in a kind of triumph or even some intense team bonding would have added more humanness to an otherwise push-and-shove sport.

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