The sixth edition of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), which is modelled on the popular IPL T20 tournament, saw record biddings with franchises shelling out upwards of Rs1 crore for players.

During the two-day auction held in Mumbai from 30 to 31 May, the 12 franchises participating in the league spent Rs45.93 crore to buy 181 players, including six entering the Rs1-crore club.

Telugu Titans, U Mumba and UP Yoddha were the top three spenders in the PKL auction.

Haryana Steelers spent Rs1.51 crore for star raider Monu Goyat, who became the highest-paid player in the history of kabaddi, surpassing Nitin Tomar’s Rs93 lakh in season five. Telugu Titans retained its captain Rahul Chaudhari for Rs1.29 crore. Deepak Niwas Hooda and Nitin Tomar were bought for Rs1.15 crore each by Jaipur Pink Panthers and Puneri Paltan, respectively, while Rishank Devadiga went under the hammer for Rs1.12 crore to join UP Yoddha.

The Iranians dominated the top overseas players’ list with U Mumba picking up Fazel Atrachali for Rs1 crore, making him the highest-valued international player.

Abozar Mohajermighani from Iran was the second biggest draw at Rs76 lakh by Telugu Titans. Prashant Kumar Rai secured the highest bid on day two of the auction at Rs79 lakh and was picked up by UP Yoddha.

“Kabaddi has been creating benchmarks in terms of viewership, quality of players and their salaries. Other than cricket, it would be hard to match the kind of interest the game has garnered over the past few years. There has been massive gains in perception, equity and aspiration associated with kabaddi, which will strengthen the popularity of the game further," said Anupam Goswami, league commissioner, Pro Kabaddi.

A total of 422 players went under the hammer in the recently-concluded auction. Of these 58 were overseas players and 87 were from the Future Kabaddi Heroes Programme (FKH), a nationwide talent scouting platform. Each team can have 18-25 players, including three players from the FKH, and between two and four overseas players. Each team has a salary purse of Rs4 crore.

The auction was broadcast on the Star Sports network and video streaming platform Hotstar. This year organizers introduced a new packaging feature called ‘bid-o-meter’. While a bid for a player is active, the needle of the bid-o-meter moves along the range, according to the current bid price till it settles on the final bid, this is done through a back-end algorithm.

“PKL has established itself as the second largest sports league after IPL in the country. I feel players breaking the Rs1 crore salary mark seems like a correction in the market since they have been grossly underpaid," said Indranil Das Blah, the chief executive of entertainment marketing firm Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions.

The investment, added Blah, also shows the increasing confidence of the franchises in the game as they now have to push for better sponsorship deals. “I think it will be an interesting season which is bound to do better than last year."

PKL generated on-ground sponsorship of Rs114 crore in 2017, down from Rs122 crore in 2016, though Vivo came on as the title sponsor with Rs262 crore for a five-year period, according to Sporting Nation in the Making V: ESP Properties—Sportzpower India Sports Sponsorship Report 2018.

The 13-week Pro Kabaddi League will begin on 19 October.

According to data provided by Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India, Pro Kabaddi League 2017’s reach stood at 313 million, second only to IPL season 10 with 411 million. Reach is the number of target households in thousands where the event was viewed for at least one minute.