As Pardeep Narwal danced his way past the Gujarat Fortunegiants to win Patna Pirates’ third consecutive Pro Kabaddi League title on October 28 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai, India found its lost love for the sport. This year’s final became the most watched non-cricketing game in India’s history and PKL became the most watched non-cricketing league at 313 million gross impressions with a watch time of 100 billion minutes. However, the journey hasn’t been easy, for players as well as owners. Despite India’s dominance at the international level, Kabaddi, for a long time was considered a non-commercial sport. This probably was the reason why sponsors were sceptical about associating with PKL when it was first launched in 2014.
As hard as it might be to believe, Puneri Paltan which was among the top four sides this season, didn’t have a single sponsor for the first season of Pro Kabaddi League. As the league became popular, a Pune based real-estate company became the title sponsor for the second season. Gradually, others followed.
“Force Motors associated with us in season 4. They were satisfied with the mileage they received which led them to continue with Puneri Paltan for season 5. Apart from advertising and branding purposes, Pune based national brands like Syska, Kirloskar Brothers got a great opportunity to support their home team,” Kailash Kandpal, CEO of Puneri Paltan said.
Soon, the players who were living in exile for so many years became crowd-pulling icons. For example, Force Motors unveiled their Tempo traveller in Chennai with Pune’s star raider Deepak Hooda and all-rounder Sandeep Narwal while Surender Nada, Anoop Kumar and others were seen doing mutual funds advertisements.
— ProKabaddi (@ProKabaddi) October 29, 2017
A major reason behind this growth was that the sport was taken to tier 2 and tier 3 cities such as Ranchi, Sonepat, Lucknow etc where the sponsors needed support in terms of branding to gain visibility. There was a huge spike in this year’s ticket sales as well.
“The Maharashtra Derby match played between Puneri Paltan and U Mumba (14th October, 2017) was sold out, days in advance. Our stadium was running full throughout, even during the matches played around Diwali,” Kandpal said.
He added that there was a huge demand for the team merchandise as well. “Merchandise sales have done exceptionally well this season. Our merchandise sale has increased over 2600% compared to season 4. Puneri Paltan merchandise was available at multiple outlets and popular online portals like Amazon, Snapdeal and Shopclues,” the Puneri Paltan CEO said.
Social media provided a further boost to the tournament. The graphics used on the various platforms helped the teams get massive engagement. “Our Facebook Page has almost one million organic likes, the Instagram page has 43,000 followers and we have 80,000 followers on Twitter. Many of Puneri Paltan’s fans took on the social media before every match, wished the team luck and participated in polls during the match,” an excited Kandpal added.
— Puneri Paltan (@PuneriPaltan) November 6, 2017
In a very short span of time, Kabaddi has come out of the silent streets and has become the second most favourite sport in the nation. It has also opened the door for more opportunities for brand managers across various categories like consumer durables, automotive, telecom etc. It not only provides a great opportunity for investment but also provides a platform for players to showcase their talent.
“Sponsors like Force Motors, Syska and Kirloskar brothers see this as an investment opportunity and an avenue to increase their goodwill by supporting a home-grown sport. Kabaddi being an indigenous sport, brands see the game as a means to connect with Indians and increase brand visibility. Kabaddi is a game of the masses and classes which is watched by families together. This gives an opportunity to the sponsors to develop a direct connect with audience from every segment of the society,” Kandpal says.
Despite all of this, the tournament has a long way to go. Puneri Paltan was the only side to sell all the available sponsorship spots this year. Its sponsorship value has increased by 150 per cent from last season but others continue to struggle. However, with stars like Pardeep Narwal and Ajay Thakur becoming household names, one could hope for better days for Kabaddi in India.