India’s pro leagues made-to-order for TV (Column: Just Sport)

Indian sport will flourish only when the athletes start making a living out of it. Cricket has shown the way with the highly popular Indian Premier League (IPL) and others have quickly followed to make India the hub of global pro leagues.

Gone are the days when the cricket board or hockey federation were run down derogatorily by comparing them with the kabaddi administration.

Today Kabaddi can proudly thumb their nose at other pro leagues as it has two seasons in a year, one in winter and another in summer.

Though they don’t get paid anywhere near even footballers in the Indian Super League (ISL), marquee kabaddi players are competing with badminton and wrestling stars.

Mohit Chhillar, a Railway clerk, got much more than Olympic badminton medallists Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (Rs 39 lakh) and Saina Nehwal (Rs 33 lakh) at the Premier Badminton Leauge (PBL) auction a couple of days ago.

Chhillar, who went under the hammer for Rs 5.75 lakh in the inaugural season, was picked up by Bengaluru Bulls for Rs 53 lakh this year, Rs 8 lakh shy of what World Number One badminton player Carolina Marin got and a little more than India’s best male badminton star Kidambi Srikanth’s Rs 50 lakh.

A handful of kabaddi players logged in the range of Rs 30 lakh and Rs 25 lakh and that’s some money for them. Kabaddi as a spectator sport has come to stay in a big way.

The sport has acquired tremendous following in just two years, what with Star TV making it saleable by not only sponsoring the event but also telecasting it in a manner to catch more and more eyeballs. Soon kabaddi players should be on the heels of biggies of the leagues other than cricket on the payments board.

The ISL itself has become The League of the country and soon there is going to be one major league spanning eight months, scrapping the country’s premier league I-League or merging the two.

The 2017 edition could be the last I-League if the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) and ISL sponsors IMG could come up with a formula to satisfy the traditional clubs from Bengal and Goa.

In two seasons, the ISL has caught the imagination of the football fans and the TV ratings clearly show that the viewership has gone up. The problem with I-League clubs is that they are unable to bring crowds to the grounds and that is hurting their marketing and merchandising.

The AIFF will have to find a way to make these age-old traditional clubs realise that they should brand themselves as a marketing proposition and not resort to emotional blackmailing.

Yes, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan can get crowds when they play in Kolkata, but none of the Goan clubs are in the same league. Here, Kerala is in a better position as their stadiums pack upwards of 50,000.

As the ISL approaches its business end, all doubts about its sustenance have been put at rest and footballers are happy that they are making more than a comfortable living from their earnings.

Following kabaddi, the Pro Wrestling League (PWL) has also struck roots. The 2016 event will be held next month after the United World Wrestling (UWW) cleared it. It had raised some serious questions about the conduct of the league and even threatened the wrestlers that they will face sanctions if they participate in it.

The world body has accepted the explanation of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) that the league is a domestic competition and overseas wrestlers will participate under the franchisee banner, not in their country’s colours.

The PWL is going to be another major TV show and the rating for its first edition were only a shade below that of the kabaddi. Indian and international woman wrestlers and India’s top men are going to be the main attraction as quite a few medallists from world championships and Olympics will be there.

Last year, most top wrestlers got upwards of Rs. 30 lakh with Yogehwar Dutt being the highest paid Indian at Rs 39.70 lakh, Ukraine’s women’s world champion Oksana Herhel beating him to get the best bid at Rs 41.3 lakh.

All leagues are made to order for TV viewing!

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at sveturi@gmail.com)

–IANS

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