Pro Kabaddi 2016, season 4: Dabang Delhi and Jaipur Pink Panthers to contest tournament's 200th match
High thigh time for Kabaddi tonight. The encounter today between Dabang Delhi and the Jaipur Pink Panthers marks a momentous occasion in the evolution of the Pro Kabaddi League. The two teams are playing the 200th match of the league and while the number may not be Himalayan in itself, the double century does underline the early success and staying power of the fledgling league.
The Pink Panthers have been an integral part of this journey, having won a title in the inaugural season of the league. The team from Jaipur was also involved in the first match of the league, against U Mumba at the National Sports Club of India in Mumbai.
With 60 matches played each season, there will be several numbers added to the tally as we continue down the path. The PKL has also decided to run the event twice a year from 2016.
The jury is still out on the extent of the success – only Star Sports and the team owners will know the real numbers involved with operating the league. Estimates vary but hosting an event across multiple cities, player costs, costs associated with brand ambassador arrangements and logistics should easily add up to anywhere between 60 – 75 crores, at a minimum.
No guesses are needed on one count though - players such as Rakesh Kumar, Anup Kumar, Jasvir Singh, Mohit Chillar and Rahul Chaudhari are household names today. It took them several years to acquire stardom - despite playing for several years for the national team, hardly anyone knew the players. But thanks to the league, they have turned into acclaimed stars in just a couple of seasons of the PKL.
Kabaddi players have clearly benefitted financially too. The payouts have increased fivefold since 2016 and incomes are set to grow with each new season. Several of the players in Season 4 are drawing multi-million rupee cheques for their eight-week journey with the league. That can only be good for the sport in the long term.
While there is no doubt about the unmitigated success of the league on television, stadium sales remain a concern. The team owners will want a bigger share of the television revenues as the league evolves into a permanent feature on the Indian sports calendar.
Overall, though, kabaddi has been a big winner and the league has played a massive role in providing the sport, top of the mind awareness both in urban and rural markets.
Students across schools are beginning to express a growing interest in the sport and that can only augur well for the sport. Another positive outcome from the spread of the league has been a growing interest in the sport across the country.
Traditionally kabaddi has been dependent on select pockets for its pool of talent. It is eminently possible that kabaddi will see the emergence of stars from a wider range of towns and cities.
As the league celebrates a grand double century this evening, they can rightfully claim credit for strengthening the roots of a truly desi sport. The PKL has played a massive role in a short span of time to promote kabaddi.
The sport has a larger mind space among young Indians and the invested association of Star Sports is bound to keep the league growing for years to come. There will be many centuries down the road and each will be as special as the match between Delhi and Jaipur in Hyderabad today.