Six teams! Indians and foreign players! Eighteen thrilling encounters at two venues! Serves; Blocks; Spikes! Excited? Now imagine all of these bundled together for you to consume on your TV, sitting on your couch whilst munching on some popcorn at primetime.
Welcome to the inaugural season of the RuPay Pro Volleyball League - a joint venture by VFI (Volleyball Federation of India) and Baseline Ventures, which begins on February 2. The six franchises which will be part of the action this year are Ahmedabad Defenders, Calicut Heroes, Chennai Spartans, U Mumba Volley, Black Hawks Hyderabad, and Kochi Blue Spikers.
At the helm of affairs, is a man who needs little or no introduction - Chief Executive Officer of the RuPay Pro Volleyball League, Joy Bhattacharjya, who has been associated with Indian sport for well over two decades now.
From creating the ESPN School Quiz to being part of the Indian Premier League and the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Bhattacharjya has now taken on the challenge of catapulting the sport of volleyball to a whole new level in India.
Top Indian stars to play alongside some world-class talent: Joy Bhattacharjya
The game of volleyball in the country is limping back to normalcy following the lifting of the ban on the Volleyball Federation of India by the FIVB (Federation Internationale de Volleyball), but Joy Bhattacharjya opines that things are definitely on the right track now and the league will help to brighten things up.
The presence of some great foreign talent in the league will also give the Indian players a great platform to test their skills and raise their game by a few notches, while the prize for the winners will be a ticket to the Asian Club Volleyball Championship, as the CEO explains.
"Indian volleyball isn’t in shambles. We have some world class players along with some really exciting young talent."
"What this league will do is give these players a platform and exposure. Not only will they be rubbing shoulders with the best foreign talent, but they will also be taking their game a notch higher when they realize that more than a million eyes are on them."
"Moreover, the winner of the league will be participating in the Asian Club Volleyball Championship. So, some of the players will be getting some vital exposure."
The Indian men ended up in the twelfth position out of twenty teams at the 2018 Asian Games and are currently ranked 131st, as per the FIVB World Rankings. However, they were 39th before the ban was imposed in 2016.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, the man who hopes to transform Indian volleyball via this ambitious venture sheds light on how the idea was conceived, the interest that the league is expected to generate, and why the focus is primarily on the South, at least for now.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
SK: How and when was the concept of the RuPay Pro Volleyball league conceived initially?
Joy Bhattacharjya: The concept of RuPay Pro Volleyball League emerged from the simple thought that India has a market for a lot of other sports.
Moreover, volleyball is a sport that is popular across the country and provides great action on television. We took these two thoughts and tried to build a league around them with some of the best Indian and foreign stars.
"All sets will be of 15 points"
SK: Will the rules and points system applicable for the matches be as per the FIVB guidelines or are there any innovations which would be unique to the RuPay Pro Volleyball League?
Joy Bhattacharjya: We have tried a few innovations and have tried to make it more pacey and thrilling. We have new concepts like Super Point and Super Serve. All sets will be of 15 points.
SK: What is the kind of interest that the League is likely to generate as compared to, let's say, the Premier Badminton League and Pro Kabaddi League?
Joy Bhattacharjya: The quality of volleyball in the RuPay Pro Volleyball League will be something that we have not witnessed before in the country. Because of the speed and the athleticism on display, volleyball is already an attractive sport and once people see the way we have packaged it on television, they will get hooked to it.
SK: Are the organizers looking at expanding the League in the coming seasons and, if so, just how many franchises could we be seeing in the future?
Joy Bhattacharjya: We are not ruling out anything yet. A lot of people in the North also have shown interest in having teams in the league in the future. So, more franchises can definitely happen. However, our entire focus currently is to have a successful first season.
"Kochi versus Calicut will be a derby to look forward to"
SK: Four of the franchises are based in the South with two from Kerala. Is that a reflection of the fact that volleyball is more popular down South as compared to the rest of the country?
Joy Bhattacharjya: Absolutely. In South India, especially in Kerala, volleyball is almost a way of life.
The passion here for volleyball is infectious. Make no mistake, volleyball is played across the country but with little action on television to follow, the interest generally wanes. However, in South India, that love for the sport is sustained.
We can expect to see one of the most passionate derbies when Kochi plays Calicut in the league.
SK: How have the foreign players responded to the idea of an Indian league?
Joy Bhattacharjya: Foreign players have been amazing. These are players who have played in different countries all over the world and know their volleyball inside out. They recognize the Indian league is a new challenge for them.
"All matches will be played in Kochi and Chennai"
SK. Will the matches be played on a home-and-away basis or are the venues restricted?
Joy Bhattacharjya: There is no home and away system in the first season. For season one, we have zeroed in on two major volleyball hotbeds in the country which are Kochi and Chennai. All matches will be played in those two cities.
SK: How easy (or difficult) was it to sell the television rights for the League and for how long is the current contract valid with regard to TV rights?
Joy Bhattacharjya: We knew our product well and had an enormous amount of faith in it and Sony showed the exact amount of faith when they realized the potential of the league. The contract with Sony is for five years.