Jimmy George Kudakkachira is a name that is now synonymous with the sport of volleyball in this country. The Arjuna Awardee from Kerala was one of the first professionals that India produced and his exploits on the court proved beyond doubt that Indians had it in them to compete with the best in the business.
The career of the man who is, until this day, considered to be India's best ever volleyball player was tragically cut short by a car crash in Milan in the year 1987 - but the legacy of Jimmy George lives on.
"May the spirit of Jimmy George enthuse Indian players to rise and shine"
Supratik Sen, CEO, and co-founder of U Sports hopes that the current generation of Indian players continue to be inspired by the sporting legend, as they display their prowess in the inaugural season of the Pro Volleyball League.
"It is evident that Indian players are playing exceptionally well in the midst of the global champions and international athletes - the gap will only get smaller."
"We will see some of the Indian players making their way to other global league teams. May the spirit of Jimmy George enthuse some players to rise and shine - as the momentum catches more tailwind. This will have a huge positive effect on the National Team, but with patience and hard work."
U Mumba Volley may not have had the kind of the start they would ideally have wished for, but for Supratik Sen, being part of the Pro Volleyball League, is part of a larger vision which involves the growth and development of volleyball in the state of Maharashtra and beyond.
The confidence of the team-owners in the boys is unflinching, as is a fiercely determined resolve to contribute to the success of the franchise - and the league.
"We will give it all... the team is very good... it needs to all come together."
"Focus is on developing players in the catchment area of Maharashtra"
The short and long-term objectives of the Mumbai-based franchise, in Sen's words, revolve around gaining adequate brand support for the betterment of the player base and greater involvement amongst the fan base, to make a game large enough to stand its ground.
"Short term aims involve work on all aspects to make U Mumba Volley - and volleyball work. Effective methods to get brands to align with the team. Brands will also align with the deeper possibilities."
"We would like to focus on developing players in the catchment area of Maharashtra."
"Long term aims involve an arena for all the sports that we are involved in and to grow the player base and fan base. A deeper association with brands and sponsors to make the sport larger and stand out."
The city of Mumbai dares one to dream big, says Supratik Sen in an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, as he stresses that volleyball is a space-efficient sport involving a level of athleticism and visual appeal that have the potential to bind the masses and create new stars.
Here are the excerpts of the interview:
"The best TV ratings for the Asian Games and Olympics come for this sport"
SK: After having spent a great many years promoting sports in India, exactly where would you rank volleyball in terms of awareness and mass appeal amongst the public?
Supratik Sen: The sport ranks right at the top. We believe that in a large country like India, we can have at least five to six top-level team sports that could be enjoyed by the masses on television, on a digital broadcast medium, and on the ground.
The ones that have already arrived behind cricket are kabaddi and football, and now it would be volleyball. There is still room for a few more. Leagues need depth and that is built over time both with more teams and with the stretching of the league.
Volleyball has a great base - one and all, have played the game at some time. It is the best space-efficient sport possible. The equipment is cheap - a ball that costs anywhere from Rs. 300 and a basic net is all that is needed.
On a 25 m x 25 m space, you can get a great game started. One can clear 5 to 7 cars from an open parking lot, and on you can go. I don’t need to explain the rules to even my Mom. It’s easily understood.
A very athletic sport, a team has the potential to absorb short players (libero and setters) and tall players (smashers or blockers) in all positions. Both the men’s and women’s games are engaging, each point involves a high point of a smash and great reflexes of the returns.
All in all, at the Asian Games and Olympics broadcasts, the best TV ratings come for this sport. More than 210 countries play the sport - therefore, it holds a massive international appeal. All around the globe, there are more than 25 evolved leagues for the sport. So, all the massy positives exist for the sport.
SK: How enthused were you when you first came to know about the formation of the Pro Volleyball League and how long did it take for you to decide to be a part of the league?
Supratik Sen: Ronnie (Screwvala) and I were always positive about this sport. He sees the appeal in both rural India and in urban spaces. Every school and college - every housing society has a court available somewhere. The sport is easy to get started with.
The VFI (Volleyball Federation of India) is positively involved and engaged in all steps, and this gives us a lot of faith, - so is Baseline (Ventures). This can be a big sport in the years to come.
The appeal will grow, new stars will be born, and more new players will emerge as has been the case with kabaddi (Supratik Sen is also in-charge of Pro Kabaddi League team, U Mumba).
Only here (in PVL), the sport goes all the way to the Olympics and World Championships. PVL will work towards the top team finding a way to compete at the Asian Club Championships. Overall, this could have a very positive effect on the sport and its reach.
"The viability of the league for the franchisees is positive"
SK: With regard to forming the franchise, how easy or tough has it been from a financial perspective?
Supratik Sen: All new sport needs belief, conviction, faith, and most importantly, the will to stay involved to make it work. All the franchisees, federation and franchisor will need to pull up their sleeves and push.
That said, the investment is in the same range that kabaddi was at the start. In a nutshell, the viability of the league for the franchisees is positive, and that allows us to plan. As team owners, we will need to be prepared to grow this idea for a few years.
Now, already in Season 1, the sport has made big strides allowing us to assess that the sport is on its way up. The broadcaster, Sony Ten has faith in the idea and have backed it to grow the sport. We will await the details of numbers from Baseline and Sony.
We need to work on brands to align themselves with the team and to really evolve with the sport. Brands in India are seeing these new emerging sports as a means to reach their marketing goals. Plus, some brands are looking at a much deeper association.
"An eye on the prize is a must"
SK: From your long experience in sports marketing, what would you say are the factors that are vital for the success of a new franchise?
Supratik Sen: Do your homework before you get into an idea or a sport, and once you are in, find all ways/methods/ideas to make the plan succeed. All great journeys will be uphill and sport also needs a lot more determination to succeed. An eye on the prize is a must and creating winning teams is a must.
We live in an amazing lovely city called Mumbai. The biggest value the city teaches is to dream - dream big - and then fight hard to achieve it and more.
SK: How motivated are the players and the coaching staff and what is the level of involvement that the management has in the day-to-day fitness and practice sessions?
Supratik Sen: We have players from all parts of India and two international players from Croatia and Canada.
The players are all professionals who work hard and aim to achieve a win at all times. The focus is on fitness, and we have the best involved. The key to a great team is a great team spirit, and an absolute aim to win. We direct all steps to achieve this goal.
SK: Give us an idea about the kind of training facilities that are currently available for the players in your team.
Supratik Sen: At the moment, we have huge support from IIT Mumbai to train.
We would like to carry out a college championship with IIT to find and unravel new talent. The best ones will get a chance to train with the main team - and onward.