In February this year, when Indian National Kabaddi Captain Deepak Niwas Hooda, who is also the skipper of the Jaipur Pink Panthers team under the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), said that PKL had been instrumental in “making Kabaddi the second-most-watched game in the country,” he was stating the plain truth and nothing but the truth. Speaking to a national daily, Hooda said, “The actual growth of Kabaddi and that so many people know us, has happened after the PKL came into being. Earlier, despite international tournaments taking place, very few people followed the game. Now, people follow what is seen or shown on TV.”
Cricket may be a religion for Indians but with PKL’s inception in 2014, Kabaddi is the third-most competitive sport in the country, in terms of viewership and revenue. The League, which surprisingly came through when well-known sports commentator Charu Sharma, spotted its potential during the 2006 World Cup, has placed Kabaddi in the same league as cricket to vie for the position of country’s most popular sports. Charu Sharma’s Mashal Sports joined hands with broadcaster Star Sports to organize the franchise-based PKL. It is also backed by the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India, the International Kabaddi Federation, and the Asian Kabaddi Federation. The most significant upheaval that this move brought about six years ago is that hundreds of millions of people watched Kabaddi turning into a commercially-viable, nail-biting performance-based game.
This has recently been revealed by online sportsbook Betway in an infographic from their latest article.
At the end of PKL’s first season in 2014, Kabaddi had a total of 435 million viewers while a staggering 86.4 million Indians alone watched the final. The fact that the Indian Premier League was viewed by 560 million people months earlier and the Indian Super League (football) was watched by 429 million during its inaugural season, also in 2014, made PKL’s debut remarkable in more ways than one. The icing on the cake was that these figures were no flash in the pan. Superb television marketers that Star Sports have been, they pulled out all stops – from short videos, laser shows, sharpened physical appearances of Kabaddi players – to enhance the sport’s profile ahead of the debut. No wonder that a sport that not many Indians had taken any interest in before could be seen beating football and inching closer to cricket in terms of TV viewership right from Season 1. By Season 4 of the PKL, there has been a steady increase in the viewership.
The IPL has had a six-year head-start on PKL and it has the best cricketers in the world, who pull in the biggest crowds but in 2021, 5 years after its debut, the fact that conversations within the sports corridors are genuinely veering towards PKL’s remarkable success and how it mirrors the healthy competition between the leading sports of the country.
Despite IPL’s six-year head-start, the 300k+ followers of PKL on Twitter are impressive, to say the least, considering the fact that Kabaddi is hardly followed outside India. The earthy appeal of Kabaddi is a major factor driving eyeballs to the sport, which doesn’t depend upon the cult of the individual’, as is the case in IPL or even ISL.
Some of the data included was taken via The Insider.
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