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Business News/ Sports / Sports News/  Pickleball league to get $10 million from SETVI, tennis pro Gaurav Natekar
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Pickleball league to get $10 million from SETVI, tennis pro Gaurav Natekar

The World PickleBall League (WPBL) is set to be introduced by Sony Entertainment Talent Ventures India (SETVI) and Natekar Sports and Gaming (NSG) with a $10 million investment to develop the sport in India and across Asia by late 2024 or early 2025.

Pickleball's popularity has skyrocketed in the last several months in India (REUTERS)Premium
Pickleball's popularity has skyrocketed in the last several months in India (REUTERS)

NEW DELHI:Sony Entertainment Talent Ventures India (SETVI), and Natekar Sports and Gaming (NSG), are teaming up to serve up a new sporting extravaganza to India: the World PickleBall League (WPBL). With an investment of about $10 million over the next 3-5 years, the league is expected to debut by late 2024, or early 2025.

Gaurav Natekar, former tennis ace and owner of NSG, said the investment will not only help launch the league in India, but also fuel growth of pickleball across Asia. 

The collaboration seeks to nurture the sport's development from its grassroots to professional levels, he said in an interview with Mint.

Pickleball, which dates back to the US of 1960s, is a racquet sport, comprising elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis, and takes up only a quarter of the space of a tennis court. It has gained traction recently in the world sporting arena.

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In February, SETVI and NSG inked a 10-year licensing agreement with the All India Pickleball Association (AIPA), which is affiliated with the International Pickleball Federation (IPF). Natekar will have a majority stake in the league, with SETVI coming in as the "first investor".

Sony-owned SETVI is an entertainment company, specializing in media ventures, besides offering technical support and strategic investments to promote sporting events.

“We are committed to supporting innovative sports ventures. Our partnership marks a step toward creating new opportunities in the industry. We will fuel the growth of this sport and extend its reach among audiences," said Nachiket Pantvaidya, chief executive, SETVI.

SETVI is not the first sports channel to set up a sporting league as a partner. In 2014, Star India had acquired a 74% stake in Mashal Sports, which established the Pro Kabaddi League. Star had also partnered with IMG Reliance to launch the Indian Super League football event.

Pickleball could potentially reach 30 million middle- and upper-middle-class Indian households, Natekar said. "There are quite a lot of tennis, badminton and table tennis players already playing this sport around the world. It is pretty easy to learn. It is age- and gender-agnostic, and is a "new-age" sport, Thus, it should make it more relevant to those watching it," 

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"Sports like these don't require large investments to hit the ground running on television." The league will be streamed live on television to develop the sport further, Natekar added. 

League to involve 6 teams and adopt city-based model seen in similar sporting events

The league will involve six teams, each comprising five to eight players, and adopt the city-based model seen in similar sporting events. While SETVI and NSG are exploring a format with both international and domestic players, finer details, such as age, gender, and other operational aspects, are yet to be finalized.

"The game is evolving very fast, so we need to look at everyone's interest when we make the league." Franchisees are expected to turn profitable by year three or four, he said.

AIPA, a nonprofit, functioning as the governing body of Pickleball in India, organizes national and local pickleball events. According to APIA, there are about 8,000 registered players, and about 35,000 amateurs in India, which is projected to reach 1 million within five years.

Pickleball is endorsed by the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney, Selena Gomez, Emma Watson, Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, John McEnroe, Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick, and Serena Williams.

However, barring cricket and kabaddi, most leagues have struggled to capture a significant viewership in India. According to a recent GroupM report, titled Sporting Nation: Building a Legacy, though sports sponsorship, endorsement, and advertising expenses have witnessed a substantial increase in India, it is skewed towards cricket.

While expenditure on sporting events have surged from 2,423 crore ($564 million) in 2008 to 15,766 crore ($1.9 billion) in 2023, at a compound annual growth rate of 13%, the Indian Premier League (IPL) alone accounted for 13,701 crore, or 87% of last year's spending.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Varuni Khosla
Varuni serves as a Senior Assistant Editor at Mint. Her responsibilities encompass crafting compelling narratives that take a deep dive into hospitality companies, the business of art, luxury brands, the intricacies of the business of sports, advertising and marketing landscapes, gaming insights, tourism and travel industry trends. She also covers alcohol commerce. She is skilled at communication, meticulous research, and insightful analysis keeping contemporary shifts and advancements within the lifestyle and business domains at the heart of her work.
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Published: 09 May 2024, 09:00 AM IST
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