The rise and rise of Pro Kabaddi League
Kabaddi’s journey from a low profile rural sport to a league with an international fan base has been a spectacular ride. It was an inspired creation by Charu Sharma, erstwhile sports commentator turned entrepreneur, who created the league in 2014. It was a move that altered the dynamic fundamentally for Kabaddi in India.
Just two years later, into its fourth season, the Pro Kabaddi League is wooing a global audience of excited followers with its nightly dose of unbridled action. The ebb and tide of this forty-minute spectacle has caught the imagination of public across platforms. Television and internet have fueled the distribution of the action to an audience hungry for native action.
The league started with an overall spending cap of just 60 lakhs in the first season. Rakesh Kumar at 12.8 lakhs was the most expensive player at that time, with several players roped in for just a few thousand rupees.
There were hardly any avenues for professional rewards and most of the players were dependent on their employers for a moderate income for sustenance. The only time there was financial reward was when they picked up prizes at the Asian Games or other regional events.
Into its fourth season, the league has been expanded to be played out twice a year, the biggest stars are now inching closer toward the one crore barrier. It will be momentous when the dam is breached, but it is just a matter of time.
The current season saw Manjeet Chillar being offered nearly 40 lakhs for the five-week extravaganza. Overall, the league is now distributing nearly 20 crores to the players, a big change from the initial budget of around 5 crores.
How PKL can help the sport of Kabaddi on global stage
The format of the competition and the evening schedule has managed to raise the profile of the game to a whole new level. The sky is the limit from here with an increasing interest in schools and colleges across both urban and rural markets.
One of the unintended benefits of the PKL is also the increasing possibility of showcasing the sport for an Olympic entry in the years to come. An inclusion in the demonstrative schedule for Tokyo in 2020 could be a good short-term goal for the administrators of the sport.
The backing of the Indian and Continental federations running Kabaddi augurs well both for the league and the sport overall. But a lot remains to be done in terms of widening and deepening the sport across the country.
Despite the immense success of the league, the sport remains a shallow pursuit limited to small sections of the country. PKL presents a transformational opportunity for the sport in terms of arousing interest and drawing more children to the sport.
The key to capitalize this wave of interest is in building an eco system of facilities and personnel to identify and nurture talent across states. Considering the minimalist nature of the sport, it aligns well with the socio-economic background of the Indian population.
Eventually, Star and Mashal could also work towards building a larger multi-tiered league that could achieve great success on the lines of the Premier League in England and the NFL in the USA.