New Delhi: Star India, the principal owners of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), is likely to generate Rs150 crore in advertising revenue in the ongoing fifth season, more than double the Rs70 crore the company generated in the previous season, according to estimates by media buyers. In May, Chinese handset maker Vivo Electronics Corp. acquired the title sponsorship rights for PKL for a period of five years, for Rs50-60 crore per year. Besides, the league has four associate sponsors (for Rs8-10 crore each) and three partners (Rs5-7 crore each).

As an emerging league, kabaddi seems to have outperformed other sports both in terms of viewership and ad revenue.

“Kabaddi has established itself as the number two sport in the country. What helped the league was its low starting cost. Both franchise cost and player acquisition costs were minimal. Star had to largely invest in packaging it correctly and ensuring a good quality broadcast," said Indranil Das Blah, founding partner at Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions, a sports marketing firm.

The league was founded in 2014 by Mashal Sports Pvt. Ltd. Star India owns a 74% stake in the firm and the rest is owned by sports management company Mashal. On the back of a two-season PKL in 2016 and India hosting the World Cup in Ahmedabad, on-ground sponsorship for the sport grew 154%, enabling kabaddi to race past football as the number two game in India after cricket in terms of sponsorship revenue. Kabaddi generated Rs122 crore in on-ground sponsorships, up from Rs48 crore in 2015, according to a report by media buying agency GroupM.

Reach of PKL last season stood at 217.46 million, second only to IPL, a decade old property that pioneered the trend of sporting leagues in India at 361.24 million, according to data from GroupM.

“It’s a sport which looks good on TV, there’s aggression and strategy. It makes you feel like you’re watching the Premier League. Even the timing of 40 minutes works, you can have enough breaks," Blah further added.

With 12 franchises and matches spread over three months, season five is bigger than earlier seasons. So far, kabaddi viewership has exceeded the IPL in three of India’s 29 states. Its audience has grown by 51% since its inception in 2014 and rights-holders Star Sports now sits on a sponsorship bounty which has grown more than four-fold over this period, said Joseph Eapen, director—India, SMG Insight, in his report titled The ROI Game.

“Both the ISL (Indian Super League) and the PKL command large audiences and return an excellent value to sponsors in terms of their return on investment. And where there is value in a sponsorship market, money—and often growth - tend to follow," said Eapen.

The one problem a league like PKL faces is in its positioning, said Blah. “While it delivers numbers, its team sponsorships are lagging behind. Because it works in smaller cities, being a sport of the soil, its ‘massy’ but its not aspirational. If kabaddi icons can find their Virat Kohli, it would be another game changer in the sporting ecosystem," he said.

Currently, owners of the PKL franchisees include Kishore Biyani of Future Group (Bengal Warriors), Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan (Jaipur Pink Panthers), Yes Bank chief executive Rana Kapoor’s daughter Radha (Dabang Delhi), Mukand Group’s Rajesh Shah (Patna Pirates), Ronnie Screwvala’s Unilazer Sports (UMumba), Insurekot Sports (Puneri Paltan), Veera Sports (Telugu Titans), and Kosmik Global Media (Bengaluru Bulls). The JSW Group, Adani Group, GMR Group, and a partnership of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and serial entrepreneur N. Prasad are the four new owners of teams in PKL.