Anirban Roy Choudhury

Dabur's Amit Burman to pump Rs 200 crore to catapult Kho Kho into the big league

Tenzing Niyogi, former segment leader – sports advisory, EY India, has now joined hands with Amit Burman, chairman of Dabur to roll out Ultimate Kho Kho League.

A few years back, sports presenter Charu Sharma met business tycoon Anand Mahindra with the concept of a Kabaddi League. The duo pitched the project to Star India, and Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) was born in 2014.

Tenzing Niyogi, former segment leader – sports advisory, EY India, has now joined hands with Amit Burman, chairman of Dabur India, with a similar intent – to bring Kho Kho from the mud to the mat. Niyogi is now the CEO of Ultimate Kho Kho League (UKKL).

Kho Kho is an indigenous sport, and historical evidence shows that it was played in ancient India.

Rajiv Mehta, secretary of Indian Olympic Association (IOA), has gone on record to say that the association is working towards getting the sport included in the 2026 Asian Games to be held in Japan. In the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, Kho Kho was included as a demonstration sport.

“I wanted to build a league in India and build a P&L after zeroing in on Kho Kho. I went to meet Sudhanshu Mittal, president, Kho Kho Federation of India (KKFI), and then presented it to Burman. He liked it and within 15 days, we had a deal. It was a presentation on my laptop in 2018 and now, we are announcing the first season,” informs Niyogi. 

Tenzing Niyogi
Tenzing Niyogi

Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) is the media rights partner of UKKL. The matches will be televised by SPNI’s sports networks. “The idea is to make every minute an eventful spectacle,” says Niyogi. In order to do so, UKKL is making tweaks to the format, “while retaining the authenticity of the game.” 

The format of Kabaddi was also tweaked to make it more appealing to the fans in the indoor stadium, as well as those watching it on television. Also, the energetic commentary in multiple languages worked in favour of the broadcasters and made it the second most viewed sport at one stage. 

“We are working closely with KKFI and taking their inputs to develop a pool of English, Hindi and regional commentators. They will not only describe the visual, but also emote the new format to drive audience engagement,” informs Burman. Besides the commentary, Burman, Niyogi and the team are also working on the (on-screen) visuals. 

"A sizeable investment will be made to develop the sport and the content (format) for television so that it (the game) becomes TV-friendly"
Amit Burman
Amit Burman
Amit Burman

“Dodging, sprinting and bursts of controlled speed make this game quite thrilling. The new format, along with Kho Kho jargon-trained commentators and presenters, will present a unique edge… attracting audiences in all age groups. Children, women and men will act as the key differentiators to drive fan engagement,” adds Burman. 

UKKL is a franchise-based format. The league owners are currently in discussions with various parties, and are yet to finalise the teams owners. Niyogi says that they are paying attention to make it a “franchise first” model. “For any league to survive, it is important for the franchises to make money,” he asserts. 

A big part of that money will come from advertising. Dabur is one of the largest marketers in India. What is it about Kho Kho that appeals to him (Burman), when he dons the hat of an advertiser?

“The positives that Kho Kho, as a sport, enjoys is that it is played all across India. It has close to 15 lakh domestic players across 700 active playing districts, comprising south India and the HSM market, which are the primary drivers of sports viewership,” he responds.

Adding, "The brands see big markets in smaller towns. The youngsters today live a fast-paced life and want to maximise every moment of content viewing. Ultimate Kho Kho has been redesigned to become an exhilarating on-air property, where every minute will be an event, taking people on a nostalgic trip played in its modern avatar.”

An edge-of-the-seat format with skydives, pole dives, dodging, sprinting and bursts of controlled speed will make this game "a treat for the fans of all age group," says Burman. He informs, "Also, a sizeable investment will be made to develop the sport and the content (format) for television so that it (the game) becomes TV-friendly. Our vision is to get Kho Kho back on the sports map of India and make it one of the top sports in India.”

Burman is of the view that PKL’s growth is proof of indigenous home-grown sports being on the right track. PKL worked as a “catalyst and a flag-bearer” in the growth of sports leagues other than cricket. 

“Kho Kho is one of the two most popular home-grown indigenous sports, having a pan-India presence. Numerous victories and recognitions in recent years have given an impetus to the thriving spirit of Kho Kho in India. The Indian team has won Gold in all major tournaments played over the last three years. Ultimate Kho Kho aims to boost this (growth) with a Rs 200 crore investment in the next five years. Fifty per cent of this investment will go in developing and promoting the sport,” concludes Burman.