Since the launch of the Pro Kabaddi League, interest in kabaddi has risen and it now competes with football as India’s most popular sport after cricket
Kabaddi’s resurgence is also confirmed by another measure: Google Trends
Turn on the TV today and the Indian sports fan is spoilt for choice. From Pro Kabaddi to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the Indian Super League (ISL) to the English Premier League (EPL), Indians can watch a plethora of domestic and international sports. The last decade has seen the birth of 16 new sports leagues in India—and more are projected over the next few years.
And of these leagues, unsurprisingly, cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) dominates. The Broadcast Audience Research Council of India in 2017 estimated that cricket accounts for 80% of live sports viewership in India, with much of this focused on the IPL . The second-most watched sport though was kabaddi. Since the launch of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) in 2014, the sport has entered the cultural mainstream.
Kabaddi’s resurgence is also confirmed by another measure: Google Trends. Data from Google Trends captures search interest in different topics, and India’s search data, given the rapidly increasing internet penetration, is a particularly powerful tool to quantify the nation’s interests.
Naturally, over the past decade, average search interest in cricket has significantly exceeded interest in football, badminton, tennis and kabaddi. However, removing cricket, football is the second-most searched sport—but kabaddi is catching up. Ten years ago, kabaddi did not feature in the Indian internet user’s radar. With the PKL, interest in kabaddi has peaked with every season and even occasionally overtaken interest in football. Google Trends also confirms the demise of hockey: India’s national sport barely registers any searches compared with other sports .
While PKL might have more viewers, the league is searched less than its football equivalent—the Indian Super League. Among the non-cricket new-age leagues, ISL enjoys marginally more interest than the PKL, a reflection of football’s popularity in India (chart 2).
And within football, more than the Indian Super League, Indians love the English Premier League. Over the last five years, searches for the Premier League have surpassed all other football leagues. Among the major European football clubs and, despite their struggles on the pitch over the last five years, Manchester United is the most popular.
Of course, all this interest in football and kabaddi pale in comparison with the interest in cricket. Over the last five years, search interest in cricket has exceeded football interest on Google by nearly eight-fold in India. But, despite all these queries, Indians do not seem to be the most cricket-obsessed nation.
Among the 12 test-playing nations, it is Bangladesh with the greatest number of cricket-related queries, nearly double of India’s and Pakistan’s (after adjusting for search volume). Outside the subcontinent, other cricket-playing nations search for cricket far less—their attention perhaps divided between other sports (notably football and rugby) .
India’s cricket obsession is also reflected in searches for sports stars. Over the last five years, Virat Kohli has been searched more often than any other Indian athlete—including P.V. Sindhu, Sunil Chettri and Mary Kom—and global stars including Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Roger Federer. Among India’s female athletes, P.V. Sindhu is the most-searched with queries peaking during her recent forays into major badminton tournament finals.
However, despite all this, Indian interest in sports is still not entrenched in its culture. For instance, cricket is still searched for far less than Bollywood . While Google Trends only offers us insights on search interest, data from the World Values Survey—a large-scale global survey of human tastes and activity—suggests that Indian participation in sport has decreased in recent years.
And by global standards, Indian participation lags behind more successful sporting nations such as Australia, Germany and the US.