Devesh Gupta

Kabaddi leagues: breathless pace

With two major Kabaddi tournaments in less than 21 days, the sport is attracting attention from sponsors, celebrities, players and big broadcasters.

With two major leagues kicking off in the last three weeks, it is Kabaddi season in India. Launched two days ago on the heels of the Pro Kabbadi League (PKL), the World Kabaddi League (WKL) has attracted sponsors, big broadcasters (Star Sports and Sony Six) and other interested parties.

Kabaddi leagues: breathless pace
Kabaddi leagues: breathless pace
Kabaddi leagues: breathless pace
Kabaddi leagues: breathless pace
Kabaddi leagues: breathless pace
Kabaddi leagues: breathless pace
The world is a stage

WKL, being broadcast on Sony Six, has a format that is close to the one followed by the Indian Premier League (IPL). It started on August 9 and will end by mid December.

There are eight privately owned teams: Khalsa Warriors, London (by Akshay Kumar, Gurdeep Singh, Peeush Mahajan), California Eagles (Surjit Singh Tut), Vancouver Lions (Gurjit Singh Purewal), Punjab Thunders, Vancouver (Daljit Thind, Rajat Bedi, Monty Sikka), Yo Yo Tiger, Toronto (Yo Yo Honey Singh), United Singhs, Birmingham (Talwinder Hayer, Sonakshi Sinha), Royal Kings USA, Sacramento, California (Sarb Thiara) and Lahore Lions, Lahore (Government of Punjab, Pakistan).

The league is a joint initiative of politician Sukhbir Singh Badal, Wizcraft and Fever Entertainment's Raman Raheja and former hockey Olympian, Pargat Singh. They have previously hosted four Kabaddi World Cups in Punjab.

Raheja, CEO, WKL, says, "It was time for us to have our own commercial venture. There are many Kabaddi playing clubs around the world with a business model, independent of government funding." The games will be played in 13 cities across five countries and three continents. The opening ceremony was held at London.

WKL's total prize money is Rs 3.5 crore (the winners get Rs 1.7 crore while the runners-up take Rs 80 lakh). Players are classified into four categories (A+, A, B, C) through a two-way selection process. Recommendations come from 11 national Kabaddi federations and experts; a combination of selection trials conducted in the US, UK and Ludhiana, beside recent performances.

Players in category 'A+' get Rs 21-25 lakh, the 'A' category players take home Rs 15-18 lakh, category 'B' gets Rs 8-10 lakh while category 'C' is the base price, Rs 5 lakh.

Moneybags and eyeballs

WKL's revenue stream includes a central pool, which collects franchise fees, league sponsorship money, gate receipts and broadcast rights. It shares 80 per cent of it with the franchisees. Individual team sponsorships and merchandising remain with teams.

The eight teams were selected out of a total of 16 bids. The selected teams pay Rs 1 crore annually for 10 years. Real estate player Wave is the title sponsor, while Sonalika Motors is the official sponsor. Other partners include Sony Six, Grey Matter Entertainment, Bright Outdoor Media, PTC Punjabi and Li-Ning,

WKL will be telecast at prime time on weekends in Hindi in its target markets, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. Raheja adds that the total broadcast rights deal is valued at Rs 13 crore, which includes promotions and marketing spends - Rs 6 crore is the league's net revenue. The TG is predominantly male, between the ages of 25 and 40 but the star power on show has both the organisers and broadcasters believing that there will be a spillover. Prasana Krishnan, EVP and business head, Sony SIX says that the league has been packaged for a modern audience.


The WKL's marketing campaign will be spread out for four-and-a-half months to ensure constant engagement. It will be heavy on print, social media and outdoor. TVCs have been released on Sony and other regional networks and feature team owners, Kumar, Sinha and Singh. The target is to get 1,000 GRPs in the first week of the launch.

The first phase of the game will be held outside India with a focus on BTL activations. The India-centric marketing bit will go full throttle after the first phase is over. Delhi and Mumbai will witness heavy outdoor promotions. According to Raheja, digital will be used to stay in direct touch with audiences.

The tournament follows the double round robin format with 94 matches (90 league games and four playoffs) and has 144 international players on its roster. Each team plays the rest thrice before the top four qualify. The final will be played in Mohali on December 14.

There are many differences between the WKL and the PKL. The latter is played in the rectangular format while the former uses a circular court. The sizes of the fields are different too. While the rectangular court is 13mX10m, the circular one has a radius of 22m. Circular Kabaddi is a one-on-one contact sport where a defender blocks the raider, while in rectangular the entire team blocks the raider. Each game in the WKL has four quarters of 12 minutes each with a 3-minute break between quarters and a 10-minute timeout at half time. Each team has 18 players (10 playing, 4 substitutes, 4 reserves).

In PKL, each team consist of a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 12 players. Seven players take the field at beginning and the rest are on the bench as substitutes. The match is divided into two halves of 20 minutes each with a five-minute interval. The teams swap courts at the beginning of the second half.

While PKL is a 43-day-long back-to-back league, WKL is held only on weekends. WKL and PKL will only clash on three weekends. PKL is played in the big metros while WKL is also played in small towns. Today there are over 30 Kabaddi playing nations across the world.

Close watch

PKL opened with 22 million viewers on day 1 and got 72.5 million viewers in the first eight days (TAM data). These numbers, says Krishnan, have given much encouragement, especially for a sport that has never been televised commercially.

YouTube has a large number of Kabaddi videos, which attracted a good number of views. This was the starting point for broadcasters to work on the game. Krishnan explains that the circle format of Kabaddi connects with viewers in Punjab and especially in the northern belt. "I believe that Pro Kabaddi League has good numbers from Western India. Both these leagues are two different products for different markets. But we will have to wait and see how the numbers come for WKL," he adds.

Kabaddi leagues: breathless pace
Sony Six is available on DTH but the LC1 markets are low on DTH numbers, a factor that will be an interesting challenge to the organisers. Vinit Karnik, national director, entertainment, sports and Live Events, GroupM, predicts that the viewership will expand from the rural to the urban areas.

Does this mean that Kabaddi has entered the league of big-bucks sports? Says Krishnan, "I don't think Kabaddi is big from a revenue perspective because it has never been done commercially. Only time will tell how much of the rural familiarity will translate to viewership." Karnik agrees.

The organisers point out that the league's long duration will allow brands to integrate sales with their activation. According to Raheja, it gives the brands ample time to monitor the ROI to their investments.

For long, cricket and Bollywood have been the prime source of entertainment, but in the last 24 months, with hockey, football, badminton - and now Kabaddi - attracting viewership and sponsorship, sports and entertainment has emerged as a force to reckon with.

Today, people invest in sports because some are passionate about it while others find a business angle. Karnik adds that one should not compare PKL and WKL with the IPL or even the ICL since cricket has the highest numbers in India. "The question is not whether Kabaddi can grow. The question to be asked is: are we promoting the game well."