When Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan bought the Jaipur franchise of Pro Kabaddi league last month, he added Bollywood pizzazz to the newly minted Indian Premier League-style sports tournament to be held in the country in July-August this year. The league is a joint initiative of industrialist Anand Mahindra and sports commentator Charu Sharma and would feature eight city based franchises that would play on a home-and-away basis. Bachchan joins other marquee names of franchise holders such as Ronnie Screwvala (Mumbai), Kishore Biyani (Kolkata), Uday Kotak (Pune), Rana Kapoor (Delhi), Core Green Group (Vizag) and Kalapathi Investments (Chennai). The league has the backing of the International Kabaddi Federation, Asian Kabaddi Federation and Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India.
The promoters have roped in the Singapore-based World Sports Group to market the event. The country’s largest media buyer GroupM India estimates that between 2008-2013 sports marketing spends rose roughly twofold, with a total spend of Rs 21.39 billion in 2008 which rose by 92 per cent to Rs 41.1 billion by 2014. The market is slotted to grow exponentially in the next few years with other sports such as football, basketball, distance running, golf, motorsport, tennis, hockey, etc., complementing the cricket story. This is quite easily the most exciting and volatile time for the sports genre in India, with alternative sports being given its share of limelight and professional leagues being launched and others being planned and plotted. Brightly-lit stadiums, frenzied audiences, coloured confetti, cheer leaders, merchandise are all par for the course, and the properties are being promoted and cushioned by corporate groups, broadcast groups and Bollywood.
“With the return of the noncricketing sports we are now witnessing is stemming from the realisation that there is a cricket overdose. Add to that, unsavoury developments in cricket.” says Charu Sharma, director of Mashal Sports. The support of corporate groups in the growth of non-cricket is what is leading the revolution according to him. “Anand Mahindra has built many successful businesses. It wasn’t just my conversations and presentations with him, but also the observations shared by Heidi Ueberroth of the NBA about the immense potential of kabaddi, that led to Mahindra offering his unstinting support and guidance to the Pro abaddi project,” says Sharma. Anand Mahindra, chairman and managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra said on the eve of the launch that a game May 30 – June 5, 2014, Mumbai.