Indian sports administrators’ attraction towards hosting Indian Premier League-style franchise-based leagues in other disciplines has seen more and more leagues being planned in the last few years with boxing recently joining the bandwagon.
The success of Pro Kabaddi League has also raised hopes of other traditional Indian sports of taking that route to increase popularity and bring in more money in the sport. The Kho Kho Federation of India had been keen on starting a league for quite some time now and received a shot in the arm last year when Dabur Group chairman Amit Burman decided to invest in a personal capacity to finally set the ball rolling.
The official announcement of the proposed eight-team Ultimate Kho Kho League was made back in April 2019 and the KKFI, along with League CEO Tenzing Niyogi, tweaked certain rules of the game like reducing the duration of each innings to seven minutes and introducing the concept of ‘Wajir’ to add an element of intrigue and make things more television friendly.
The league is now expected to take off in February-March with the organisers likely to close in on the broadcaster later this month. But, given the way fact that most of these leagues in India have failed to work out a sustainable model, the obvious question to ask is how can Kho Kho be different and what made Burman invest in the sport rather than any other big-ticket leagues like most other big brands are doing.
“With India excelling in sports other than cricket, there is a natural urge to support other sports. Statistics have shown that non-cricketing leagues have had 44% average impression last year compared to 19% impressions in Cricket.
“India’s highly-improved performances at the Commonwealth and Asian Games and the Khelo India initiative gave India a platform in Sports as never before, it was the best moment to get involved with a sport like Kho Kho,” Burman told Scroll.in through an email.
Burman is banking on the fact that Kho Kho is one of the most popular sport in rural India with over “20 lakh registered players in the sport across various age groups all over India”.
Kho Kho has also been added to the 2021 Asian Indoor Games program as a demonstration sport with the association hopeful of making it a medal event in the 2026 Asian Games.
But, will that be enough to guarantee that a league would succeed when the likes of Ultimate Table Tennis League, Premier Badminton League and even the Indian Super League have been struggling to get their revenue model right and have had to redraw their plans?
Burman insists Kho Kho isn’t competing with any other sport for space among the top-tier leagues in the country but is only looking to create its own niche for brands targeting smaller town markets while trying to make the sport more lucrative for players.
“Brands are seeing big markets in small towns. Television viewership in 2018 was driven from the South India, HSM markets where Kho Kho has a massive fan following as well. The game is popular in pockets but it lacks visibility. That is what we aim to achieve with the league and re-modelling the sport to reach every household through television and OTT platforms,” he said.
He added, “Our business model will be established on the three pillars of – Broadcast, Franchise, Sponsorship. Ticketing and merchandise in India are not a significant revenue contributor as compared to the western world. Revenue source for the franchisee will Central Sponsorship (Sponsorship + Content acquisition) Ticket Sales + Local Sponsorship; displays + Prize Money.
“We fully understand that it won’t be accomplished overnight. In five years, with consistent visibility backed with performance and robust grassroots in place, we hope to create some sort of a niche for the sport and build on it further.”
Pointing out how PKL changed the living standard of the players and thereby changed the way Kabaddi was perceived in India, Burman said the league was trying to introduce new rules that could keep the spectator engaged while not losing out on the thrills that make it an enthralling experience.
How successful this venture would be will depend on how well the league manages to put all the talk about grassroot development into a sustainable program, and more importantly, work out a revenue model that works.