afaqs!, New Delhi & Mumbai
Brands and Sports marketing

Kedar Apte, Vice President Marketing, Castrol India Ltd.

I expect PKL to be one of the most anticipated events in the sports calendar.

In a cricket crazy nation, a homegrown sport has caught the attention of the masses. Especially, in the metropolitan cities and among the millennials. Kabaddi, thanks to the push from Pro Kabaddi League, has managed to carve a category for itself and marketers have started to notice its potential. Be it the tier 2 and tier 3 audience or increasing viewership from metros, Kabaddi has proven that it is ready to be played in hi-tech stadiums with fans rooting for their team.

We interviewed Kedar Apte, vice president marketing, Castrol, to know his views on the growing popularity of Kabaddi, along with Deepak Netram, Lodestar and Karthik Lakshminarayan, Vibrant (Reliance Jio).

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 is a classic case of what we call ‘Category Building’ in marketing. Star has done a great job of building some non-cricket sports in India to grow its viewership. The youth today lives a fast-paced life and want to maximize every moment. Based on this insight, the game of Kabaddi has been redesigned where every minute is an event. Innovations such as bonus line must do raids make the game fast paced where a viewer can’t even blink for a moment. Elements such as player action, substitutions have been brought in to engage youth further. The broadcaster has done a great job of educating the audience as well as sportswriters about the game and of course, the celebrity quotient has also helped drive eyeballs initially. They also targeted young children by hosting junior kabaddi and kids are getting parents to the stadium or to their TV sets to watch the game. The game also has got some heroes now such as Ajay Thakur, Rahul Chaudhari, Fazel, and Jang Ku Lee who are very popular and get their fans to watch every match of their teams.

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?

Kabaddi is the second most watched sport in the country now and I think it will continue to grow. Having more representation from different states is a great idea. Similar to IPL, the audience likes supporting a particular team and having more teams will only help drive engagement in more states. I think over the few years, the game will grow in terms of penetration (reach) as well as consumption (stickiness). I expect more growth in the urban markets especially through young age group as well as female teenagers.

I also expect Star to attempt to grow the sports in select overseas markets. With more than 50 overseas players, markets such as Korea and Poland can also help the channel get more revenues and invest in the property.

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?

I think India certainly has the potential to be a multi-sports country, given the popularity of sports such as Kabaddi, Football, and Badminton. With billions of impressions, PKL has certainly achieved a great stature already and I would expect Star to invest heavily in the sport to grow PKL multifold. While I don’t see PKL overtaking IPL in the foreseeable future, I expect it to be one of the most anticipated events in the sports calendars of the country. Given the multiple opportunities for monetization, the investment will keep on coming to fuel further growth. I think PKL is already a big success story which will only get bigger.

I see only one limitation to growth now. While the sports has done well on TV, there is an opportunity to build this better on social platforms. For instance, FB community for Rahul Chaudhary, one of the stars in PKL is about 240k, less than cricketers warming the bench. With social profiles of the PKL players growing, the brands can leverage their association across platforms and get more bang for their buck.

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?

First of all, Kabaddi in PKL is fast paced that keeps the audience glued to their TV screens. While cricket is a special sport, I think that ‘contact sports’ have their own appeal. There is also an aspect of Kabaddi being an indigenous sport that helps attract more brands which want to project themselves as Indian brands.

A league like PKL offers brands an opportunity for some unique activations (Eg AMFI TVC, Gillette – Break the Beard), how can brands take advantage of such opportunities by doing customized activations.

Kabaddi is becoming a youth sport including female viewership and is a great platform for brands that target youth of both genders. There are different facets to the sport – attack, defense, strategy, skill, teamwork and so on, that brands can draw a connection to.

For instance, we at Castrol were trying to build ‘Cling on’ proposition of Castrol Activ, and could leverage on successful tackles as a brand property to amplify the brand message. We branded the most successful tackle of the match as ‘Castrol Activ’ Cling on Tackle and amplified the same across platforms. We also used the platform to celebrate real heroes of bikes – mechanics who cling on to their passion to serve the millions of bikers across the country.

Brands, given their objective, can use PKL as a springboard and evolve unique ideas that would catch the attention of viewers and communicate the brand message.

Castrol has associated with PKL in the past, what were the brand objectives when you decided to do that?

We wanted to build differentiation for Castrol Activ – our leading brand for two-wheelers. Castrol Activ has Actibonds that cling to the engine parts. No platform brings Cling On to life as directly as clearly as Kabaddi

How did Castrol leverage the association with PKL?

We wanted to establish the proposition of Actibonds clinging on continuously and to do this we had a great creative idea. We used a successful tackle - where defenders attempt to cling on to a raider as a creative idea. We branded a segment called Castrol Activ Cling on Tackle of the day to feature the best tackle of the day. We leveraged this not only in TV telecast but also used this asset digitally on our Social media platforms. Further, we used Actibond mascots to be a part of the audience in some of the matches and got them covered during the telecast along with the brand proposition.


Kabaddi is now a popular sport among kids and now that it is growing in scale, even in Urban Markets, will it still continue to attract the tier 2 and tier 3 markets? How does that work for you?

Deepak Netram , Senior Vice President - Lodestar

From largely being recalled as a game played barefoot in muddy ‘akhadas’ to hi-tech stadiums packed with audiences, Kabaddi has made a giant leap with regards to its popularity in India.

High impact marketing campaigns and a concerted push by established corporates to build the sport are perhaps the key reasons for the rising popularity of Kabaddi. With big film stars and leading sportspersons coming onboard, create glitz and glamour has been brought in to the sport.

This has encouraged brands to increase visibility and strengthen brand recall by associating with PKL year after year.

Deepak Netram
Deepak Netram

Brands like Vivo, Amazon, SBI have associated with PKL through its multiple brand engagement opportunities.

Increasing the number of teams every year ensures participation of players from remote areas of India and increases viewership across the country.

For the kind of brand seeking such audiences, it’s definitely a potential platform and Kabaddi as a sport is likely to grow in the future.

Karthik Lakshminarayan
Karthik Lakshminarayan

Karthik Lakshminarayan , VP Media Planning & Strategy - Vibrant for Reliance Jio

Of course, Kabaddi is an important genre for us. It’s a truly homegrown sport and we support it entirely. The more the game spreads the better for all involved with the game. It should cut across all tiers of the country and not be restricted to just a few. A higher order appeal only means more money invested in the sport.