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Business News/ Industry / Kabaddi has potential to be as big as cricket: Star Sports’ Nitin Kukreja

Kabaddi has potential to be as big as cricket: Star Sports’ Nitin Kukreja

Nitin Kukreja, president and head, Star Sports India, spoke about the broadcaster's vision for the sport on the sidelines of Ficci Frames 2016

Nitin Kukreja, president and head, Star Sports India. Photo: Hindustan TimesPremium
Nitin Kukreja, president and head, Star Sports India. Photo: Hindustan Times

Mumbai: As Star India gears up to deliver one more season of the Pro Kabaddi League this year, and contemplates the broadcast of the Kabaddi World Cup, it’s clear that the broadcaster is optimistic about the future of the sport.

On the sidelines of Ficci Frames 2016, the annual media and entertainment event, Nitin Kukreja, president and head, Star Sports India, spoke in an interview about the broadcaster’s vision for the sport, and why it is perhaps important to change old perceptions and bring some glamour into the game. Edited excerps:

How does kabaddi stack up for Star India, when compared to other non-cricket sports?

Kabaddi has been a phenomenal success. It’s grown from season to season and has manifested itself in terms of more people watching, with deeper engagement each season, so it certainly stands out as a successful sport. We’re just about scratching the surface in terms of how big it can be. I would actually go out and say that this sport has the potential to be as big as cricket. If you step back and look at it, it’s been a journey of about 20 months, we’ve had three seasons and it’s grown from season to season. But the healthiest part is that stadiums are getting full, every game that we do, every season that we do, you see a lot more participation in the sport. Kids playing the sport is a very healthy sign, and in terms of sponsors (many) have come in and liked what the sport has offered, and renewed their sponsorships from season to season. So across the various parameters the sport is in a very healthy shape.

Any numbers you can share to indicate how well it has been received?

The first season was seen by 430 million people, again this was the TAM benchmark. If you look at it just in terms of engagement and now where we are in the new world order of measurement, you can say that on a like-to-like basis, kabbadi grew from season one to season two by 20%, and from season two to season three by 35%. If there were any concerns around overkill, or are we doing too much, have been laid to rest. If it is good content and it’s a good engaging sport, which is what cricket is today, consumers and fans are ready to engage.

What would you say have been the key challenges to building this sport?

Step back to when we launched season one, we didn’t know where to find camera crew that actually had experience in shooting the sport! We had to find people and train them. Were they experts on day one? Absolutely not! No one knew how to present it on air, no one knew what the score ticker should look like, no one knew how a commentator should be. We paid a lot of attention to those details and got it to running off the ground and today are at a stage where people appreciate the sport.

While people knew of kabbadi, there was no aspiration attached. So (the challenge was) not just from a content perspective but also from a marketing perspective. It actually came down to a lot of things we did, literally giving haircuts and shaves to players, to designing the colour of the mat, it went down to making sure that the stadium experience was something that had some aspiration attached to it, to making sure that the trophy was something to covet, and the marketing campaign was actually designed to ensure that the aspiration was built around the sport.

The common perception was that it is a rural sport, but today, I can safely say that is not the case at all. Today, the demand that is there for tickets to get to a stadium, it is very much an urban sport, that kids love, families want to go to the stadium for, to watch on television. That was the journey, but now that these basic things are done, we will have to keep building the stature of the sport.

Kabaddi is largely unchartered territory. By that virtue, does it allow more scope for innovation in terms of presentation and programming?

I think every sport offers scope for innovation. It’s just where Kabaddi was 20 months back, it just seems that the field is open in terms of what you can do and experiment. It’s a journey we have started on and will evolve in terms of technology and data coming into this sport, and the way that it is presented as well. We’ve presented it in four different languages. From season to season we have brought in newer broadcast technology, we’ve brought in more cameras, we’ve improved the commentary, the graphics, introduced statistics. The consumer is more engaged with the game, owing to these factors. This year we even mic-ed up the players, so you could hear them chant “kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi" which is integral. Traditionally, team identities have been around emblems, but we have brought it to life with mascots on air, and some teams have translated those to mascots on ground as well.

You’re going to have the second season of the Pro Kabaddi League in a few months, and may consider the broadcast of the Kabaddi World Cup as well. Are you not worried about viewer fatigue?

It has only grown from season to season. And fundamentally reiterates the point, that if its good content if it’s is engaging for the consumer, it will grow.

How important is it to glamorize sport? To have presentable, if not good looking athletes?

These guys are extremely fit athletes. Yes, there was the glamour quotient or the aspirational element missing out of it, which is so essential to any sport. Going back to the perception (of the game) it used to be considered a rural sport, no longer (considered that) I think a fair element of aspiration has been attached to these guys, there are already getting mobbed at airports, at hotels that they stay in. Yes, I just think people have recognized that these guys are great at what they do. That’s what you would want a sports person to stand for. Initially, they didn’t know how it would be like on television, and grooming was a part of it. But it was also the overall perception of the sport that needed to be improved.

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Updated: 02 Apr 2016, 09:40 AM IST
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