Pro Volley League: A one-edition wonder

Just as the players were hoping that the Pro Volleyball League would go from strength to strength, came the rude jolt. In November 2019, the Volleyball Federation of India terminated its contract with Baseline Ventures which was running the league.

Action between Chennai Spartans and Kochi Blockers in the Pro Volleyball League at the Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai in February, 2019. The league brought some of the world’s best players to the country, offered Indians decent money and brought in many new fans.   -  M. Vedhan

For a country which has never played volleyball at the Olympics, the Pro Volley League appeared to be a small step towards that big goal. The PVL, which made its debut in February 2019, had a lot of spice too. It brought some of the world’s best players to the country, offered Indians decent money, brought in many new fans and more than anything, put the sport on television.

“It was a massive change, the way we played and prepared, also the huge exposure on TV. That would have been a big step towards the Olympics,” said setter M. Ukkrapandian, the Indian captain at last year’s Asian championship and the 2018 Jakarta Asiad.

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Even volleyball’s world body FIVB, which looked at India as a country with huge potential, was impressed with the six-team PVL, jointly owned by Baseline Ventures and the Volleyball Federation of India with Sony Pictures Network having the broadcast rights.

But just as the players were hoping that the PVL — which was held in Kochi and Chennai with Chennai Spartans emerging as the champion — would go from strength to strength, came the rude jolt. In November 2019, the VFI, an indisciplined and faction-ridden body for the last few years, terminated its contract with Baseline Ventures which was running the league.

That made the PVL a one-edition wonder. The players were shocked while team owners were very angry and confused.

“The federation (VFI) has messed up the whole thing and the ultimate losers are our players. We were very upset with the federation, it was one of the best leagues and there was television broadcast too,” said Thomas Muthoot, director of the Muthoot Pappachan Group and the owner of the Kochi Blue Spikers team in the PVL.

“And Kerala was one of the biggest losers because the state keeps throwing up very good talent year after year.”

After the VFI terminated the Baseline Ventures' contract which meant the end of the PVL, many of the team owners were even planning to start a rival league, revealed Thomas.

“We, along with the other teams, were planning to start a rival pro league. Initial talks were there,” he said.

“But the problem is, the players could have been banned by the federation, they may not be allowed to play for the country. And if there is a stay on the league, it could have been a problem.”

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But despite the bitter experience with the national federation, Muthoot will be back with a team if the pro league returns.

“Yes, we will be interested. Volleyball has a different type of following, a sort of matured type of fans, even families are involved. We like that,” he said.

One hopes the federation has learnt the lessons that the PVL offered.