Open to selling title sponsorship of PKL only to someone as committed to kabaddi as us: Uday Shankar

Star India CEO talks about the challenge of changing the 'rustic' perception about kabaddi, and packaging it in a smart and modern format, consumable by all audiences, through Pro Kabaddi League (PKL)

e4m by Srabana Lahiri
Updated: Aug 12, 2015 8:05 AM
Open to selling title sponsorship of PKL only to someone as committed to kabaddi as us: Uday Shankar

While Star India - the majority stakeholder in the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) - has deepened its bet on kabaddi by renewing the title sponsorship for Season 2 of PKL, Uday Shankar, CEO of Star India says he is open to selling title sponsorship next year but only to “somebody committed to the future of kabaddi”.  

Talking to exchange4media, Shankar observes, “We’re not opposed to deep, long-term partnership. It will be a marketing and commercial decision. We’re totally open about selling title sponsorship if there’s somebody who is equally committed to the future of kabaddi as we are. But we’re not going to bring in short-term tactical partnerships for amounts like Rs 20-30 crore.”

Eight leading brands across categories - Bajaj Electricals, Department of Atomic Energy, Flipkart, Mahindra & Mahindra, State Bank of India, Thums Up, TVS Motors and VIP Frenchie - have come in as associate sponsors for Season 2 of PKL, which has already seen a 60% jump in viewership over last year since it began on July 18, 2015.


Shankar believes that kabaddi will be the “breakout sports development in the next 3-5 years”. Talking about the journey from discovery to engagement of kabaddi, he says, “When we decided to go into sports, we clearly had one understanding - no matter how great the game of cricket might be, a country with a size and diversity of India needed to have many more sports and Indians needed to become more of a sporting nation. Through internal discussions, we discovered that kabaddi was a sport which had deep national roots pan India. A large number of people, regardless of their socio-economic background, had played kabaddi in some form or the other, but it had still not grown into a serious national game. We thought there was huge opportunity – kabaddi being intense, strong, and requiring both physical fitness and skill, there’s great magnetism in the game for viewers. That’s when we decided to make kabaddi bigger. The challenge was to reinvent kabaddi for the millennials, and we said let’s start working on that.”

To promote the adoption of the so called ‘uncool’ kabaddi, it had to be packaged for a young, urban audience. “The first big conceptual change happened when we were able to position kabaddi as a serious sport rather than a ‘timepass’ game for the poor, rustic people. We took away that perception and packaged it like any modern game. We took it indoors, on to synthetic turfs, in high quality production environment, making it strong, slick, very urban, fashionable, presenting the players in a certain manner and bringing in a formal narrative for the sport with commentary, graphics, records, etc.,” Shankar says, describing

Star India’s endeavour to make Season 2 of PKL bigger and better, with ‎a leap in production techniques, on air graphics and analytics to take the viewer closer to the game.

Season 2 of PKL  is being broadcast in five languages- Kannada, Telugu and Marathi along with English and Hindi - across eight channels and on the OTT platform Hotstar. It is also being broadcast to a global audience in over 100 countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Middle East and Latin America.

New features include creating a place of pride for the National Anthem through renditions on each match day by icons from the film and music industry, sportspersons or local musicians and bands.


Shankar rues the fact that people talk about the absence of a sporting culture, but few are willing to do anything about it. “Corporates are not willing to put in a few crores into sports, even though it would be a fraction of their entertainment budget. Even concerned citizens are not willing to go out and play or watch a sport being played,” he says.

Another thing that bothers him is the dearth of infrastructure in sports other than cricket. “Neither the Government nor municipal authorities or businessmen building facilities and huge townships consider it essential to invest in integrated sports infrastructure. That is a huge challenge for ordinary people to play, for professional players to practise kabaddi or football, etc. Cultural changes are required if India has to develop a sporting culture,” Shankar states.


At Star, all media content is aimed towards creating a positive social impact, asserts Shankar: “Pushing social thinking, challenging existing norms and beliefs… that’s what we’re doing here. As for kabaddi, we feel immensely proud of what we’ve done in such a short period of time. It’s still early days, but for us it’s a very important thing. Sports in itself is very democratizing and liberating. Our dream is that in the next 5-10 years, we should be able to create 30,000-50,000 kabaddi players across the country who can aspire to make a living out of the game. If we do that, it will have a transformational impact on the lives of people. It can be an important economic tool and also an amazing social glue.”

Season 2 of PKL has also aligned itself with social consciousness through its commitment to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, urging in-stadia audiences, franchise clubs, kabaddi players as well as viewers on TV to participate in keeping their surroundings clean.

At another level, Shankar cites the example of soccer, which has played a hugely positive role in Latin America and Africa, and athletics and some other sports bringing about change in the West Indies, and hopes that sports like kabaddi will do the same thing for India.

Meanwhile, the India Sports Sponsorship Report 2015, GroupM and SportzPower has found that on-ground and team sponsorship for cricket has fallen due to the birth of new sports leagues. The study forecasts that non-cricket sports are likely to expand the sports business and states that Pro Kabaddi League is the one to watch out for.


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