By Somali K Chakrabarti
Kabbaddi is in vogue now!
The rustic Indian game that nobody thought much about has suddenly become fashionable.
With the Television channels broadcasting the live game in its slick 45 minute format, men, women and kids alike have taken a liking to the game. Spectators are enthralled by the combination of skill, tactics, footwork, agility and the reflexes of the players. Four or five defenders coiling around a raider to bring him down, or the raider extricating himself from his opponents to retreat to his home court, make an exciting watch.
Earlier what was seen as a semi – urban or a rural game is now being viewed as strategic and even glamorous. It is exhilarating to see the raider as he tries to discern the strategy of the defenders, and withholds his breath during the entire course of the raid in his opponents’ court, while continuously and audibly chanting the word ‘Kabaddi’.
Media coverage of the Kabaddi matches played in stadiums all over the country, cutting edge graphics and presence of celebrities have upped the glamour quotient the game and created the right buzz.
Role of India Inc in resurrecting Kabaddi
Admittedly, the credit goes to India Inc for reviving the game and presenting it in a format that appeals not only to people from the interiors of the country, but also to school going kids living in the metros, who have also started following the game. The short duration matches the young viewers’ attention span.
The new found Kabaddi Craze in India started with Pro-Kabaddi League, an initiative driven by Anand Mahindra (Chairman, Mahindra & Mahindra group), Charu Sharma (managing director, Mashal Sports), Piyush Pandey (Executive Chairman & National Creative Director Ogilvy & Mather India) and Rajiv Luthra (Managing partner, Luthra & Luthra Law Offices). They were joined by other leading corporate honchos such as Uday Kotak (Chairman, Kotak Mahindra Bank), Kishore Biyani (CEO, Future Group) and Ronnie Screwvala (Founder, UTV group). Star Sports is the long-term broadcast partner for airing the tournament.
There are eight franchises in the league owning teams from Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Jaipur, Kolkata, Mumbai, Patna and Pune, with 12 players in each team.
Franchisees are owned by corporate czars including Rajesh V Shah, (Managing Director of Mukand Group), Radha Kapoor (daughter of Yes Bank founder Rana Kapoor), Srinivas Sreeramaneni (Veera Sports), Ronnie Screwvala (Unilazer Sports), Sumanlal Shah (Director of Insurekot Sports) and entertainment personality Abhishek Bachchan.
Franchise owners will spend around Rs 5 crore every year on player fees, transport, logistics and franchise fee.
With over 22 million television viewers tuning in on the opening night, the overall viewership of ProKabaddi League was around 10 times higher than that witnessed in India during the opening match between Brazil and Croatia of the recently concluded FIFA World Cup. It also generated significant number of impressions on Twitter and Facebook.
The enthusiastic response of the viewers has encouraged Pidilite Industries to integrate its adhesive brand Fevicol with Pro Kabbadi League. As the brand’s messaging of strong bonding is in line with strong holds, tackles and bonds of Kabbadi, ‘Fevicol ki Pakkad, Chootegi Nahin’ will be featured during live matches when a tackle results in entrapment of the raider.
Two formats of Kabaddi, Separate Leagues, Separate Governing bodies for each
Close on the heals of Pro-Kabaddi League, kicked off another kabaddi League – World Kabaddi League, with 8 international teams scheduled to play in 14 cities throughout 4 different countries. The owners include movie stars like Akshay Kumar and Sonakshi Sinha . The league has roped in Sony Six as the broadcaster for India. Raman Raheja, CEO, World Kabaddi League expects the league to clock a turnover of about ₹ 100 crore in the first year itself, with each of the eight teams making an investment of about ₹ 5 crore.
Unlike ProKabaddi, which is played on rectangular court, WKL is played in a circular format. It is interesting to note that the two leagues will be governed by different governing bodies, and the players of one league will not be allowed to play for the other.
Promoting Kabaddi is an innovative integration of CSR with business strategy
In a country obsessed with cricket, it would not have been easy to get the buy in for organizing the game at such a large scale. Laudable are the efforts of these industrialists, who instead of capitalizing on the existing popularity of cricket in India for quick returns, believed in investing time, efforts and money to revive a traditional cultural sport.
Kabaddi is now played in 32 countries across the globe. The mandate for any sport to be officially recognized as an Olympic sport requires 50 playing nations. The extensive promotion of Kabaddi may encourage more nations to take up the sport, thus bridging the gap for gaining recognition as a Olympic sport.
The returns for franchisee owners are likely to come in its due time; nonetheless the success of the tournament will go a long way in strengthening the brand connect of these corporate houses with the people all over the country including urban, semi urban and rural areas, that is where the next phase of India’s economic growth is expected to come from.
Now, with the inclusion of social welfare expenditure incurred by companies towards promotion of sports like the rural and national sports would be in CSR activity, promotion of Kabaddi is certainly an innovative integration of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) with the business strategy of companies.