The media rights for the next five seasons of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), the second-most watched sports league in the country after the Indian Premier League, was retained by  Star India  for Rs 905 crore. The base price was set at Rs 900 crore and while six prominent media enterprises picked up the Invitation to Tender (ITT) document, only  Star India  participated in the auction.  

The PKL team owners, however, are unhappy with the whole auction process and believe the league could have generated a higher broadcast revenue. 

Rajesh Shah, the owner of the three-time champion Patna Pirates, observed that the true value of PKL has not been discovered. “Kabaddi is a very popular and important Indian sport. Star played a big role in popularising it on television for these last seven years, as have all the stakeholders – the team owners and everyone associated with kabaddi. I believe the real value of the media rights could have been much higher,” he told  Sportstar

READ: Star India retains Pro Kabaddi League media rights

Indicating a conflict of interest, he added: “It is unusual that a sports league is owned by a broadcaster, which has helped up to now, but if we are to realise the true potential of kabaddi then fresh money and fresh players coming in across various channels can help. I believe they (other potential bidders) did not participate, even though many were very interested, because they must have felt, rightly or wrongly, that they may be disadvantaged with the league owned by another broadcaster.” 

The subject of a conflict of interest has long plagued PKL. Mashal Sports, established in 1994, launched the PKL in 2014 and  Star India was roped in as the broadcaster. However, buoyed by the resounding success of the debut season,  Star India acquired 74 per cent stake in Mashal Sports, thereby gaining control of the tournament. 

Having incurred losses over the first seven seasons, when each team received around Rs 6.5 crore per season from broadcast rights, the owners had hoped a media rights auction would unlock the true potential of the league.  Star India  had earlier offered the teams around Rs 15 crore a year, but the owners felt the league had a greater value and wanted to take it to the market. However, the Rs 905-crore deal will ensure only Rs 12 crore per year for the teams.

PKL team owners seek fresh media rights auction to stall losses

Telugu Titans owner Srinivas Sreeramaneni felt the bidding process was not competent. “It’s unfortunate that the process run by Ernst and Young and Mashal was not competent enough to draw any other bidders. Hopefully, the league will continue to benefit the players and the game,” he said.  

Film and television producer Ronnie Screwvala, the owner of season two champion U Mumba, was more caustic in his remarks and is looking to sell his team's ownership. “U Mumba will look to sell its team ownership in PKL. Nepotism played out to a sham auction. The erstwhile high fee earning consultants involved need a standing ovation for running the most successful auction ever where NO bidder (other than the owner of the League) turned up for the second most popular sport in India. But who will hold anyone accountable? It’s disappointing that by selling off a great Indian sport to a global media company the true potential has been capped forever,” he said in an e-mail response. 

READ: Pro Kabaddi League: Bringing kabbadi to the mainstream

He added, “League owner Mashal remains totally conflicted by its ownership and even failed to timely disclose complaint letters received by potential bidders that the tender process was biased to favour broadcasters & eliminating all tech and new age companies to even enter a bid. On a lighter note - If I get sued for my above comments, I’d be happy to lay bare the origin of conflict and nepotism.”

- Team owners were consulted: Mashal Sports -

Charu Sharma, a co-founder of PKL and a co-founder of Mashal Sports, assured that the teams were consulted through the auction process. “I am personally delighted that Mashal took formal assistance from some of the most reputed advisors and the most experienced and proven e-auction platform to take the media right matter forward, showcasing the very free and fair nature of the media rights process. The Auction Committee through the process had nearly 10 reviews with Mashal including two consultative meetings with the franchisees who are major beneficiaries of the revenues generated from media rights.”

READ: Pro Kabaddi League season eight likely to commence in July

When asked about the team owners’ concerns over the solo bid at the auction, a PKL spokesperson said, “Our main objective was to set up a quality auction process that would attract the best market value and thereby benefit all stakeholders. We have created and adopted the best and most relevant practices for this: splitting the packages, creating flexibilities for bidders, a well-publicised open tender, and financial bids through a real-time e-auction. The reserve price of Rs. 900 crore too was in complete consultation with franchisees. The important thing is that the qualifying bid is higher than the reserve price.” 

Addressing concerns over the subject of a conflict of interest in the auction, the spokesperson clarified, “Mashal has addressed the entire universe of measures required for a fair and transparent auction; including especially adopting measures to alleviate the concerns conveyed by our franchisees. We also have formal communication from the nominated franchise representative confirming the same and expressing reasonable satisfaction. Starting from November 2020, Mashal engaged with franchisees at regular intervals.”