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The second season of the Pro Kabbadi League(PKL) has been met with increased enthusiasm from all stakeholders involved. The fan following seems to be growing strongly, with viewership numbers increased by 65%, according to data released by TAM India (Business Standard, July 31, 2015). Sponsors supporting the league and the teams have also turned up in abundance, with title sponsors Star Sports having roped in several associate sponsors for the second season (Business Standard, June 25, 2015).

This is also evident from the teams’ jerseys, which are struggling to accommodate the several brands supporting the franchises! Finally, the owners of the teams have also met the second season with plenty of energy, several of them attending their team’s matches personally and with much fanfare.

The Pro Kabbadi League 2015 in Action

The PKL is definitely good news for the average urban sports consumer in India, who now has the ability to watch and experience a well-known but rarely seen or played sport in urban India. Moreover, the PKL has done a fantastic job in setting up and running the league professionally since its inception. It has built a strong brand, creating identities for consumers and fans to follow their favourite city teams. Also, from the increased viewership numbers, it is evident that PKL is also creating brand loyalty, which is important in its long-term success. The PKL has invigorated sports fans across urban India, but does its potential stop here?

I believe that the PKL has the potential to energise grassroot sport in India. In my view, this can be done in a few ways which will be mutually beneficial to both the development of recreational sport at the grassroots as well as the PKL. The PKL should begin with urban India, as this is where most of their fan base is from. The idea should be to utilise Kabbadi as a form of recreational sport, which is fun and engaging to participate in, but also provides numerous benefits including physical and mental health and well-being, as well as social and emotional development. With obesity among children a growing problem in urban India (Misra et. al., 2011), Kabbadi could be an apt activity to get children active, instead of leading sedentary lifestyles.

A good way to promote this would be through schools, wherein the PKL and its franchisees partner with institutions in several Indian cities. The PKL and their franchisees can hold camps in schools, possibly also involving the team’s players. But, a more sustainable way of ensuring Kabbadi and the PKL brand remains in the schools is to introduce it within the PE curriculum, and train the PE teachers to implement Kabbadi specific games and activities.

The PKL would benefit from such activities as their brand, and that of the sport of Kabbadi, will only be enhanced, as it will trickle down to more consumers and stakeholders, increasing their fan base. Moreover, the PKL will be engaging with younger consumers, who will be more likely to take a more sustained interest in Kabbadi, and hence the PKL, ensuring long-term brand loyalty.  

Girls enjoying a game of Kabbadi in rural Odisha

The PKL must also look at developing the sport in rural India, again by focusing activities at the grassroots. I believe they can leverage the new CSR law to introduce Kabbadi to youth at the grassroots in rural India, in a more complete and sustainable manner. Under the list of activities companies can undertake as part of their CSR with regards to this new law, “training to promote rural sports, nationally recognised sports, paralympic sports and Olympic sports” (Companies Act 2013, Schedule VII) has also been included. This should motivate the PKL and its franchisees to ask their sponsors to divert part or their entire annual CSR budget towards the development of Kabbadi in rural India.

Moreover, this can be facilitated by a CSR wing initiated by PKL, who would be responsible for the running of year round Kabbadi programs in underprivileged and marginalised rural communities, wherein lies hidden plenty of latent talent. To run these programs, Kabbadi coaches, acting as community mobilisers, will work in allocated rural areas with schools, ensuring that Kabbadi is integrated into the PE curriculum, and played as an after-school sport with both boys and girls teams.

Sun shine or rain, these boys in rural Odisha are ever-ready for Kabbadi!

Implementing such a CSR program for the promotion of Kabbadi in rural India will inadvertently promote the PKL brand. The community mobilisers will also act as ambassadors for the PKL brand, as well as the brands of the franchisees. Furthermore, implementing Kabbadi programs for rural youth will allow PKL to engage with a larger youth consumer base (as opposed to only those in urban India). Also, I believe that rural youth will have a greater brand affinity to PKL than their urban counterparts.

This is because, firstly, Kabbadi is a rural sport, popular and often played by youth in their communities and schools, and secondly, rural youth will identify better with the PKL stars, as many of them too hail from rural areas and humble beginnings. Finally, these rural programs can become feeder centres for the next set of PKL stars, wherein franchisees can develop talent ID camps to recruit talented players

The PKL is, in my view, on the right path to be a commercial success in the coming years. But, it can do so much more for the development of grassroot sport in India, to help energise sport among the youth, especially those in rural India. We hope they will stand up to the occasion, and be a leader in showing other commercial leagues in India the value of developing grassroot sports programs.