Perspective | Indian sports - heading to a league of leagues phase?!
Kabaddi kabaddi kabaddi...well that is the new sport to enter the league format sports presentation in India as the auction of India’s first Pro Kabaddi League culminated a few days back. India's sports scenario has undergone many changes in the last few years. Following the success of the country’s cricketing extravaganza – Indian Premier League, almost every sport we see is going the 'league' way; thus taking India, in what we believe, the 'League of Leagues' phase! With the thunderous applause and appreciation that IPL received, business houses, marketers, sports experts, media planners and buyers took on to building such similar properties for other sports. While the Indian Badminton Leagues and Hockey India League are fairly new in the ‘league game’, sources from across media sections have begun citing concerns over the future of the growing league trend.
As almost every sport is going the league way, concerns are sprouting on the sustainability of these big ticket properties. With too many options to invest in, experts also say that contrary to the belief that ‘the more the options, the better it is for marketers’, investors, for certain obvious reason, refrain from investing in sports that in their opinion are not ‘mass appealing’.
In this edition of Adgully Perspective, we try and get an understanding of how and where the said trend of India heading to the league of leagues phases is going; along with their takes on the success and viability of the concept. Our contributors include, Sandip Tarkas, President (Customer Strategy) and CEO (Future Media & T24) at Future Group, Supratik Sen, CEO, Unilazer Ventures - Sports Business, Charu Sharma, MD, Mashal Sports and Prasana Krishnan, Business Head, SONY SIX.
Tarkas believes that the first thing about a league to succeed is that it has to represent the level of sport which is very high. “We believe that some of the leagues which have happened in the past probably did not manage to do that. For example in Hockey India League, a few rules were tweaked so as to make it more television-friendly, which I believe if you do, damage the sport itself eventually”.
Representing Future Group which has a team in the recently announced Pro Kabaddi League, Tarkas goes on to say that one needs to get raw, new and fresh concepts to the viewers that will bring in the desired edge for all parties involved. “If we show a sport which has never been seen in a televised version and on such a high scale; it should definitely take viewers by surprise. Thus we believe that through this entire uplift for a sport like Kabaddi, people, who may have certain preconceived notions and imageries of the sport, will shrug them off and understand that the so-called rustic sport is actually an intelligent game”.
Sen is of the opinion that a sport which has a local or national connect and support is a brilliant opportunity for everyone to build stars of the talent available and do good business as well. “With regards to other leagues, I believe nothing should stop them, everyone is going to continue run each one of it, but certainly the question mark of its long run success or failure is going to dangle upon each one, irrespective of the sport. As we have invested in the maiden edition of Pro Kabaddi Leagues, you will see that there are very decent names in the game, renowned business houses backing it, and with Star Sports coming on board the game will go on prime-time TV and the broadcast strength also increases. So I believe that this particular proposition looks much stronger than others; though we understand that this might take a couple of years to reach the mark of complete success”.
Sharma believes that modesty and humility is what they are beginning with. “We do not have eye-popping numbers, because we do not want to fall in this trap of starting too big and then fizzling out and suffering from over expectation. I think the problem is not how big you start; the problem is how much you expect from your act. Our expectations are modest and wherever our commercial circles take us it will take us. If we start up there, we are not sure where the journey may take us, so as we are learning from everyone else, modesty and prudence is what this business demands!"
However joining the bandwagon understandably isn't enough to reach those peaks of success. A renewed approach supported by conducive environment will make sports that are not-so-popular reach millions of households and hearts at the same time.
Speaking about how and why is India witnessing the sudden splurge of leagues, Krishnan opines that the trend or pattern of development of the ‘league’ format of the sports can be traced to the fact that an economically growing country leads to increased consumption of sports thus making it into a multi-sports nation. “In my opinion the actual problem lies in the fact that the domestic sporting structure is inadequate to support the large quantity and quality of talent India has. Some occasional gaming events, not-so-popular national games, under-approval of the sports as a profession, underdevelopment of sports as a leisure activity (unlike western countries) are all factors that have come across as hindrances for the growth of sports, other than cricket, in this country. However IPL, in a lot of ways, changed that culture and conveyed that sports that was once played as a part of leisure for some and worshipped by others can do wonders, not only as a sport, but has turned out to be a fabulously lucrative business venture as well”.
Considering they are producers of the 'conducive environment' - broadcaster, sharing his take on this, Krishnan said, “I believe that one is right in saying that providing a conducive environment to any idea or talent is the next essential thing and that is where we as broadcasters come into play. Though our constant endeavour is to try and experiment and support concepts that are fresh and unique in their own space so that the talent pool gets a platform as well our viewers are offered something new. However, a major misconception that a lot of people hold is that once the idea is given to the broadcaster, they will do the rest for us; but what we need to understand is that broadcasters can only be enabling the mechanism. The big risk lies in the reality that how well funded an idea is and how sustainable and viable can it be in the long run. A lot of times, the people behind the set-up do not hold the ability to sustain losses that such huge properties hold. Sports, which have a good on-ground connect like cricket, hockey, football, badminton etc will have people vesting their interest in them. However, if a sport does not have a mass base and local / national connect, it would not succeed in the county. Hence while cricket was and continues to a national attraction, it is a viable property to float and associate with”.
In any case, we believe that as the painting of the Indian sporting scenario is being filled with colours of varied sports, true sportsmanship prevails!