Why Indian Leagues are better off aping Pro Kabaddi League

Indian sports industry is surging forward. The opportunities that have cropped in the past decade has no parallel which has resulted in many businesses, start-ups, freelancers formed on the periphery of many leagues that have come up in the recent years.

In the past five years, every sport federation and businessmen have come together with an idea of starting a league. The main contributing factor being the success of Indian Premier League (IPL) – and how it consistently makes money and has managed to hog limelight consistently since its inception in 2008.

These many leagues, one needs to ask a question, is this a healthy trend? Sure, it is if the leagues and the associated stakeholders can sustain the costs incurred and make money. It’s plain economics when it comes to the running the leagues.

India is a huge market and fairly disproportionate when we look at sports. Investors can be roped in easily, keeping them happy and motivated are the primary challenges. Hence, the act of aping Indian Premier League must be relooked.

Time must be invested in understanding the ground realities of individual sports and that might take an year or two or more – however it is worth it if one needs to play the long game. The league promoters must use that incubation time to answer the ‘why’s’ more than ‘how’s’.

Back in 2011, I was given a survey and a list by my colleague at IMG. Who among that list of international footballers would I pay to watch them play in India. The list comprised of European league players and that is how I got to know a franchise based football league was in play. It was early days and three years later it shaped up into Indian Soccer League (ISL).

IMG-Reliance, the brains behind the ISL knew the time was ripe to enter the football market with a different approach. Having seen the success of IPL through Reliance and IMG’s involvement, the soccer league was replicated and then fine-tuned. The template is ‘work in progress’ and it is ‘brave’ on their part to prefer the ‘agile’ method to find the right formula.

Unlike IPL, the soccer league has challenges such as corporate funding, scheduling and market liquidity. The important question of, what is ISL’s ultimate goal when there exists the national league in India in the form of I-league?

This is where Pro Kabaddi league has been a success story. The number one factor being – Kabaddi is seen primarily as an Indian sport. Hence the overheads are not over the roof and its logistics are smartly planned and to top it, it has been a hit among the pay audience. The league owners have identified their shortcomings and haven’t been ambitious with it.

In a way, they have replicated the essence of core American leagues – to promote the local sport locally. Pro Kabaddi has been India’s success story in sports league since the IPL.

Tennis, Hockey, Badminton, Volleyball, Table Tennis, Basketball, Wrestling, Boxing, Archery must do their home work and fine tune or overhaul their template in order to be a successful business sporting property in India.

The marathons and city run events have been a hit and will continue to prosper as more Indians associate running with better health. How can other sports find this connect with the audience? Understanding ground realities and prepared to be less ambitious are great steps to start.

To be successful in the Indian sports industry, one has to embrace the organic growth. While the European and American formats are popular, India is better off adopting and identifying sports that promotes India at its core.

What would Indians love to watch and are ready to pay for it? and how would they like to be treated in such a scenario? And when a sports property is planned along those aforementioned thoughts, executed (with local involvement) and consumed within the society, it is a sure success.

Coming to ISL. There are talks about the merger of I-league and ISL and though this is the way forward, I believe it must not be rushed. Even if there are big brains around who can accelerate this joint venture, there should a window through which we can analyse the impact of ISL. Five to seven years window is minimum if we need to derive patterns as that would speak a lot about the stakeholders and their strategies.



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