I think what Pro Kabaddi League did was to bring Kabaddi out to main­stream at­ten­tion par­tic­u­larly from a con­sumer’s per­spec­tive.


In 4 years’ time, the way PKL has grown and con­se­quently kabaddi, it is not hard to pic­ture it as a ri­val to its crick­et­ing sib­ling IPL. How­ever, there’s still a lot left. Dig­i­tal and TV view­er­ship met­rics, mean­ing­ful as­so­ci­a­tions, and high-level con­sumer en­gage­ments are yet to be ex­plored com­pletely. Brands need to tap into these new op­por­tu­ni­ties and lev­er­age a prop­erty which has suc­cess­fully shown that it has a pan-In­dia ap­peal.

We in­ter­viewed Nitin Kukreja, CEO, IQuest En­ter­prises, to know his views on the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of Kabaddi. Edited Ex­cerpts:

Kabaddi has been seen as a home­grown sport. Now with its ur­ban­iza­tion, it is be­com­ing pop­u­lar in met­ros and among mil­len­ni­als. What are your views on it?

Kabaddi has been a pop­u­lar, in­dige­nous sport which al­most ev­ery ur­ban or ru­ral In­dian has played as a kid. I think what the league (Pro Kabaddi League) did was to bring it out to main­stream at­ten­tion par­tic­u­larly from a con­sumer’s per­spec­tive. Sud­denly, it was on your screen in a man­ner that was very well pack­aged and you sud­denly saw the great strength of the sport in terms of speed and agility. So, it brought about a stage for Kabaddi to be show­cased.

With the ad­di­tion of four new teams in sea­son 5, PKL be­came In­dia’s big­gest sport­ing league in terms of ge­o­graph­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion with 12 fran­chises from 11 states on board. How would you pre­dict its growth tra­jec­tory?

I think it has al­ready reached a cer­tain level in the 4 years’ time but I think it is still very early days for the sport. Even with the tra­jec­tory over last four years, it is to my mind, just about scratch­ing the sur­face. As it gets more ur­ban at­ten­tion, and con­tin­ues to build on its grass­roots; it is only go­ing to get stronger from here. Also, the way Kabaddi grows will have dif­fer­ent man­i­fes­ta­tions. You’ll prob­a­bly have more games and tour­na­ments for team In­dia, more women’s games, chil­dren’s games, school leagues; Kabaddi will grow in dif­fer­ent forms and along­side that PKL will grow. There­fore, to say that PKL has gone from 8 teams to 12, is prob­a­bly not the only or the right mea­sure to look at. It is to see what the en­tire Kabaddi ecosys­tem grows to, which is the larger pic­ture.

PKL is at­tract­ing big­ger brands on board now. Is it on its way to be­com­ing the IPL for brands? And would it be pos­si­ble to repli­cate the same suc­cess as its crick­et­ing sib­ling?

Over a pe­riod of time, why not? It should be the right am­bi­tion for PKL to at­tain the same level of pop­u­lar­ity as IPL. Hav­ing said that, cricket was in main­stream at­ten­tion for 4 or 5 decades and which al­lowed IPL to take off. Kabaddi is on a rapid rise, but there will be a jour­ney to go through.

I think mar­keters are also wak­ing up to the pop­u­lar­ity of Kabaddi. Af­ter cricket, it is prob­a­bly the only other piece of con­tent which has a pan-In­dia ap­peal out­side of cricket and when I say that I would in­clude movies, soaps, and movies. So if a se­rial is made in Hindi, it has ap­peal only in a Hindi speak­ing mar­ket and the broader di­as­pora at­tached with it. But when it comes to cricket or kabaddi or foot­ball, in that or­der, they have pan-In­dia ap­peal. The ge­o­graph­i­cal spread is prob­a­bly achieved only through cricket, kabaddi, and foot­ball in that or­der. Within this, I think that mar­keters still need to look be­yond how they have built brands through cricket which is largely in­ven­tory lead. They need to start look­ing for as­so­ci­a­tions with teams and play­ers to achieve their brand ob­jec­tives. By that, I mean, even now a lot of mar­keters end up putting up a patch on the jer­sey and then use that for brand vis­i­bil­ity. I don’t think that is the only thing that a sports team of­fers whether it’s in cricket or in foot­ball or Kabaddi. Mean­ing­ful as­so­ci­a­tions can be built. Vivo has done that with a multi-year as­so­ci­a­tions on IPL and PKL whereas I think that level of plan­ning is still to per­co­late down to other brands as to how to as­so­ci­ate with a team or a sport for mul­ti­ple years.

For a sports-lov­ing na­tion like ours, such prop­er­ties mean un­prece­dented brand vis­i­bil­ity and re­call. What other fac­tors do you think are at­tract­ing brands to­wards PKL?

There is ob­vi­ously a TV and dig­i­tal view­er­ship met­ric which most mar­keters look at. But I think be­yond that they also need to look at the ground ac­ti­va­tions and fan en­gage­ments that are done. Sports bring en­gage­ment with a con­sumer or a fan at a very high level, prob­a­bly at the high­est level, and it all de­pends how one taps into each of those en­gage­ment points whether on­line or on TV or on ground. There are var­i­ous touch points that the spon­sor can lev­er­age by de­vel­op­ing a mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ship.

A league like PKL of­fers brands an op­por­tu­nity for some unique ac­ti­va­tions (Eg AMFI TVC, Gil­lette – Break the Beard), how can brands take ad­van­tage of such op­por­tu­ni­ties by do­ing cus­tom­ized ac­ti­va­tions.

We did a cor­po­rate Kabaddi event in Chen­nai where over a week­end, thou­sands of peo­ple vis­ited the mall where it was be­ing con­ducted. Now that’s a great touch point for ac­ti­va­tions to be done by brands. Now if you start bring­ing the star play­ers into the mix it starts be­com­ing more and more mean­ing­ful. An­other example is that a hand­set man­u­fac­turer can tie up with a dis­trib­u­tor and use the sports team’s ap­peal to pro­mote its lat­est model at it dis­trib­u­tors’ out­let. The team’s star play­ers send­ing out the mes­sage to the con­sumer and the fan about the model would be a a very mean­ing­ful way to build brand aware­ness rather than just be­ing a spot on the jer­sey.

Nitin Kukreja Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer, IQuest En­ter­prises

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