Pro Kabaddi League: Bringing kabbadi to the mainstream

One would argue that things look great for kabaddi in India as the sport has seen an exponential growth and players are finally getting the exposure they desire. However, team owners, the ones who pump in the money, have not seen sunny days yet.

Bengal Warriors and Dabang Delhi in action in the final of the Pro Kabaddi League in October 2019. Bengal Warriors took the title. Kabaddi players have been the biggest beneficiaries of the PKL, with many pocketing handsome seven-figure salaries for a four-month-long tournament.   -  Vijay Soneji

The arrival of the Pro Kabaddi League in 2014 saw the sport gain unheralded popularity in the country. The sport’s image underwent a massive makeover and the game was transported from muddy fields in villages to air-conditioned stadiums and TV sets in urban India.

It took little time for the League to establish its footprint on the Indian sporting scenario as it became India’s second most-watched sport on television, doing better than football’s Indian Super League, which was also launched in 2014.

Kabaddi players have been the biggest beneficiaries of the PKL, with many pocketing handsome seven-figure salaries for a four-month-long tournament. The highest-paid Indian player was Monu Goyat, who was signed by Haryana Steelers for a whopping ₹1.51 crore in 2018.

The appealing paychecks and the idea of playing in the world’s biggest kabaddi league have seen the PKL make phenomenal growth, worldwide, with players from Iran, South Korea, Kenya and Thailand making the yearly trip to India.

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One would argue that things look great for kabaddi in India as the sport has seen an exponential growth and players are finally getting the exposure they desire.

“Most teams came into the PKL for the love of the sport and to promote the game. But it has been seven seasons and clubs are still making losses,” says Telugu Titans team owner Srinivas Sreeramaneni (fourth from left).   -  Nagara Gopal

 

However, team owners, the ones who pump in the money, have not seen sunny days yet.

“Our expenses for the first season were ₹3 crore, and today it is almost five times that. The costs have gone up — player fees, number of matches, travel expenses, everything has risen. The teams invest around ₹14-15 crore per season but get only close to ₹6.5 crore (in broadcast fees) in return, which is a 100 percent loss,” says Telugu Titans owner Sreenivas Sreeramaneni. Telugu Titans has been part of the PKL since its inception.

“Most teams came into the PKL for the love of the sport and to promote the game. But it has been seven seasons and clubs are still making losses. Initially, we thought we will have to bear losses for the first 3-4 years, but it has gone on for seven years and now the losses are increasing as the league expands. Not even one franchise is making money,” he continues.

Sreeramaneni says that the money from ticket sales is barely enough to cover stadium expenses and that clubs largely depend on the broadcast fees to stay afloat.

With losses mounting, the franchises are now demanding a fresh auction of the PKL’s media rights. Star Sports held the rights until last year and the new auction is due now. The clubs want at least three times of the previous ₹6.5 crore per year fee offered by Star Sports and are eager to at least recover their losses, if not make a profit.

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“There is no bad blood (between the clubs and Star Sports). The teams are just looking out for themselves. If the clubs continue to bleed going forward, then why will they continue doing it?

For clubs to see money, they need about ₹20 crores to recover losses and to stay green over the next five years. “That’s what the clubs are looking for — a more equal share, to write off losses and make money at least going forward,” he says.

However, with the future of the league uncertain owing to the coronavirus pandemic, it is unlikely that the owners will get relief soon.

The eighth season of the PKL, which was slated to begin in July, remains indefinitely suspended.