Joy Bhattacharjya, CEO of Prime Volleyball League, on Monday, emphasized the significance of leagues to the rapid growth of the country’s sporting ecosystems.
Baseline Ventures, promoter of the now-defunct Pro Volleyball League, launched the Prime Volleyball League in 2021, with five of the six franchises that made up the original PVL.
“Volleyball has suffered from a lot of problems, mainly organizational, in the past two to three decades, but the truth is Indian volleyball was hugely successful at one point, but for whatever reasons, the organization has let us down. The League (PVL) has made a tangible difference,”
Bhattacharjya said in a panel discussion titled ‘Balancing on and off field success in sports leagues’ at Sportstar’s first-ever National Sports Conclave in New Delhi on Monday.
“What’s most interesting about volleyball is that it is played in every school and college, but you never saw it on TV before PVL. International volleyball is big during the Olympics, and Asian Games are the only time we see it. Why do we need to see people? What happens when we have a league is that you have heroes... there are volleyball players who are household names again because people are seeing them,” he added.
Comparison between Prime Volleyball League season 1 and 2
Meanwhile, Anupam Goswami, CEO, of Pro Kabaddi League, one of the most widely followed sports leagues in the country after the IPL, spoke about kabaddi’s recent gains and how it continues to penetrate the Indian market. Kabaddi has quickly become one of the most popular spectator sports in India thanks to the advent of PKL.
“No sport can become big unless the athlete takes it big (sic),” said Goswami. “One of the successes of PKL is that villages used to play kabaddi but used to shy away. Today a kabaddi player can proudly say that he is a kabaddi player. Unless a player is big, he won’t become a big role model.”
Bhattacharjya echoed Goswami’s sentiments. “They (fans) want to be a (Sachin) Tendulkar (Indian cricket great) and Dilip Tirkey (Indian hockey player), and that’s how they get into a sport. So with a League in place, you essentially say ‘here are some heroes you can follow in your sport. There is also the matter of nutrition and training.
“The beginning of the IPL (in 2008) ameliorated the quality of physios, trainers, and sports scientists that came into India. The diets of our athletes are much more controlled because they have something to look forward to - today, by and large, volleyball players know their bodies and are in much better control. The important contribution of [League sports] is that while a national team can employ 10-11-15 players depending on the sport, a league automatically ensures that at least 80-120 players make some sort of money and get exposure. It has huge rippling effects throughout the ecosystem.”
Jose Antonio Cachaza, managing director, La Liga India, weighed in on the business demands associated with foreign sports leagues.
“Football is probably the only truly global sport. The Indian leagues mostly have a local appeal, especially business-wise. The La Liga international broadcast rights value is 100 million dollars, way more than IPL’s broadcast rights value. And we aren’t even the first league in terms of value, so this is important... we do realize that our domestic market is not enough for growth.
“We need to start exploiting broadcast rights because that’s where the money is. Today, we [La Liga] have offices in 11 countries and 40 delegates in 40 countries. Our job is to understand the market, increase our brand presence, and increase our business here - selling sponsorship and increasing the value of our broadcast rights. In India, we [all leagues] are fighting for only 15 percent of the market - cricket swallows 85 percent of the money that professional sports produce in India. We know in terms of business, India is not today’s market but a future market.”
Vita Dani, co-owner Chennaiyin FC and chairperson, Ultimate Table Tennis, threw light on the challenges of running a domestic league in two different sports. “I think they operate at two different scales (UTT and CFC). We at UTT have tried to keep our costs very low. We had the lowest operating model in any league. As far as football goes, the scale is much larger. I am not trying to compare, but the talent we have been able to grow and the sport is phenomenal,” Dani said.
Bhattacharjya rounded up the discussion. “Till sport becomes a habit rather than a festival, we still have a long way to go.”
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