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Strong national, regional structure needed for kabaddi to thrive

MUMBAI: While TV coverage has given cricket scale, the bat and ball game has actually thrived due to the structure that the BCCI and state associations have put into it.

Kabaddi needs something similar to be done. At the same time, while the Pro Kabaddi League’s (PKL) start has been excellent, franchises have to figure out how to engage with fans even during the off season. They have to use data analytics.

These points were made by GroupM business head entertainment sports and live event Vinit Karnik at the Vivo Pro Kabaddi League Media forum held in Santa Cruz.

Kabaddi needs a national and a regional structure put in place so that parents can see the sport as a career option for their children. Besides, kabaddi franchises need to engage fans even during the off-season. Franchises need to understand who their fans are, where the fans potentially lie. Hooking the young TG is tough, given that they have a lot of entertainment options.

Therefore, franchises need to use data-centric digitally charged solutions. “We need to develop a fan-based programme for merchandise. Franchises need analytics on who is sampling content, who is buying their tickets. Then they need to go back to the fans to sample them with things like merchandise and loyalty programmes. Then the fans will engage,” Karnik said.

He noted that engaging fans during the non-season is a challenge and in the IPL the franchises still struggle to identify a consistent programme. The key to further growth will lie in identifying loyal audiences whether for TV or for other aspects like merchandise or ticket sales.

“Franchises need to think of fan engagement on multiple platforms beyond a great TV experience. The PKL has local world-class talent. Now we have to ensure that the players become ambassadors of the sport. We have to try and make them as popular as cricketers. Slick content packaging has helped. But well begun is half done,” Karnik said.

PKL franchise U Mumba CEO Supratik Sen noted that the idea of owning a franchise came from Ronnie Screwvala, the promoter of Unilazer Ventures. “We spoke about what sports we should work with. He said that we should do something that was differentiated and positive. He asked if we should do kabaddi. I felt that it was a great contact sport and there would be no need to explain it.”

He noted that he used to watch kabaddi games in the chawl areas of Mumbai. There are hundreds of clubs. “Ronnie saw it in his youth days. We felt that the sport could go deeper. Other sports have complicated rules. For instance, what does offside mean in soccer? Kabaadi is easier.”

He said that the U Mumba team was built on basic facts. With the advent of the PKL, players can now earn a lot more. “It has changed the way youth see the sport,” Sen observed.

From a business perspective, one needs to see a larger picture. At first when the first match was to take place, he doubted if the NSCI stadium would be filled but he was wrong. On the fourth day, the franchise management realised that they were onto something good.

He mentioned that from a brand perspective the gear shift has happened. “We keep sponsorship benchmarks high. This is important as investments have to be made in areas like infrastructure. So, the aim is to set up academies. One is already there,” he stated.