The first leg of the seventh season of Pro Kabaddi is in the cans. But barring the first and last days, spectator interest has been a little underwhelming and television numbers have taken a dip. The PKL needs to rediscover its mojo and engage better with fans to get the league into higher orbit.
There is no debate about the fact that kabaddi has drawn great excitement among Indian fans since making a sensational debut in 2013. However, the last season dragged on its feet and cost the league precious viewership numbers. BARC numbers indicated a significant drop in impressions, down by over a quarter - from 1.6 billion impressions in 2017 to a little less than 1.2 billion in 2018.
The Telugu Titans did the league no favours by turning out a damp effort at home, with their ace signing Siddharth Desai showing barely any signs of the 'Bahubali' that we saw during the previous season. In fact his brother Suraj stole his thunder with a massive debut, collecting a record 18 points; the elder brother was reduced to playing second fiddle in the match against Dabang Delhi.
Perhaps it was to be expected that the league would suffer a tad before scaling new peaks. After all, kabaddi is a sport that resonates equally well in urban and rural settings, and the quality of the product continues to be impressive.
However, it is the pieces surrounding the league that the PKL needs to find innovative ways to add oomph to. The powers that be need to intensify their efforts to tap into the fans' natural affinity for the sport.
The city of Hyderabad seemed scarcely affected by the presence of such an important event in its midst. Much of the stadium was filled with pass holders who bring neither revenue nor sheen to this promising league.
It is certainly worth weighing the costs of painting the city deeper with the many vibrant colours of this entertaining competition. The onus is on the many stakeholders that invest in this competition, who ought to be responsible for managing the costs associated with promoting the league.
Perhaps the teams should pool resources in an equitable manner to share the efforts, as there are bound to be variances in the prices of billboards and other promotional avenues from city to city.
While it is understandable that the players keep intensely busy during the maddening ride from one city to the next, there has to be a way for them to work out ways to connect with eager fans - especially the younger ones.
There is also ample opportunity to bring data into play while Star Sports translates the action for its enthusiastic viewers. Aspects such as raider preferences, strengths and weaknesses of players based on hard data should not be too difficult to offer. The use of heat maps to showcase spots of opportunity and risk could help the viewers ride the tide better.
Kabaddi can become an NBA-level league in India and look the Indian Premier League in the eye. But in order to do so, the organisations managing the show need to raise the bar and meet the players at the top of the crescendo that they are working to create night after night.