‘Passion and business’ considerations behind procuring PKL team, says GMR’s Hemant Dua

Before another season of the Pro Kabaddi League begins, Hemant Dua, the CEO of GMR’s Sports Division, speaks to Sportstar on its association with the kabaddi league, Delhi Daredevils’ future and more.

“Pro Kabaddi League has taken off well and is doing good as a league.”   -  S. Subramanium

Is it time to look beyond Indian cricket? Perhaps.

With other sporting disciplines opening up more avenues for the investors, some of India’s biggest business groups are lapping up the opportunity. GMR Group, the owner of the Indian Premier League franchise - Delhi Daredevils - is one of the major players who have recently explored other avenues as well. After procuring a team in the South African Global T20 League, the group has also entered Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) with its franchise - UP Yoddha.

Before another season of the PKL begins, Hemant Dua, the CEO of GMR’s Sports Division, speaks to Sportstar on its association with the kabaddi league, Delhi Daredevils’ future and more.

The excerpts…

Why is this decision of entering the Pro Kabaddi League?

When the league started we wanted a team but then the environment wasn’t great. It is a brand extension and we want to grow in the sports sector and that’s the reason behind getting a team in the league. Pro Kabaddi League has taken off well and is doing good as a league. So it made sense to be a part of this, since we are already in one of the top sports (Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League). In terms of viewership, kabaddi is at No. 2 in India. So, it made all the sense.

Do you think this extension will help you participate in other leagues later?

Sure. We will evaluate it. At the end of the day, it is also a business opportunity. As and when the opportunity makes sense, we will evaluate it. It’s not just about living your passion. You don’t just go spending your money and empty your pockets for pure passion. We have learned over the years that it has to be a combination of passion and business. So if it makes business sense yes we will evaluate it.

What are you expectations from the league?

It’s being now positioned as one of the biggest leagues. So it is a critical measure for us to kind of see (how things go). Earlier there were two leagues and both of them were doing well. This is going to be a combined one - three month long league. If it does well, it would show the appetite for sports. Then it (would be) a natural progression and all the other leagues will also grow and survive. If that happens, it will be good for the sports market overall. We want the league to do well. We want it to grow and it is an opportunity for our brand and team. If it happens, it will all fall in place because it is matches that people enjoy.

At the end of the day, kabaddi is an ancient sport played in India for centuries. It has caught the imagination of the young generation. If it can build that fan base which comes across from children to adults, nothing can be bigger and better than that.

Recently, you have entered the Global T20 League (South African T20 cricket league). Is this a step in taking the business to other countries as well? Maybe, some other forays, other countries, other leagues…?

Yes we are trying to do it - trying to graduating from one to the other. It has to be a natural extension of what we are doing here. For example, cricket was a natural extension and opportunity for us to do a lot of synergy coming from both the franchises, utilising coaching staff, different players. So it was a natural kind of extension. We will certainly think further if and when an opportunity presents.

Let’s talk about your main brand, Delhi Daredevils. What happens to it in the next season of the IPL?

Firstly, we need to understand from the BCCI or the IPL governing council about what the rules are for the next season. Once we are clear about whether the retentions are allowed, or what the policies are - we can take the next step. We also have to think of developing the core group. Now with Rahul (Dravid) also gone, we will have to find a good coaching staff and then move in that direction. The next auction is going to be crucial for us. With Rising Pune Supergiant and Gujarat Lions making ways for Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, it will be an interesting auction. So we don’t know yet what the rules are. People often ask why we buy young players, but the good thing is those young players are doing so well. Eight of the boys are selected for India A tour to South Africa. It shows that we are in the right direction.

Now that kabaddi has come in, are you planning to create one common brand?

It will be an extension of one brand in that particular vertical (individual brands in each vertical)… While in cricket it will be a natural extension to build a brand around that because few people understand that it is the same brand that plays round the world. Tomorrow, if there is a Daredevil brand in kabaddi, it doesn’t make sense. We have to have individual brand which the people can relate to.

In cricket, naturally, it would revolve around the Daredevils brand. That’s the brand we talk about in cricket and even people know that this one outfit which plays cricket in various parts of the world. Similarly, if tomorrow there is a world league of kabaddi, our franchise will definitely be called Yoddhas. That’s how natural extensions work.

Later, if we enter into other leagues, say football or badminton, then we will have an individual brand for that space. We will build brand in that vertical, that’s how it is.

But there are talks that the Delhi Dardevils might be sold off. What would be your reaction on that?

I don’t know what’s going on. As a group, we have just bought two new businesses, so obviously there is more interest in maintaining them. People keep approaching the group, and people listen to the group. If the opportunity is right, they will take a decision. It is a board’s decision. It is not my decision. That’s the answer to your question.

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