The latest viewership data revealed by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) for week 47 threw up an interesting story. The opening day of the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar registered a reach of 9.7 million (BARC data: 2+U+R; including DD) and consumption of 0.48 billion minutes.
But if one compares the figures of FIFA World Cup opening day in India to the opener of Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) season nine, a stark difference in noticed. The opening day of PKL’s season nine registered a staggering reach of 46 million (2+U+R) combined with a consumption of 1.41 billion minutes, which is significantly more than the figures recorded for the opening day of the FIFA World Cup.
The recent viewership figures are a testament to the growth of kabaddi, seen mainly as a rural sport which got attention when India fetched medals at the Asian Games. which has been making great strides in India since the launch of PKL in 2014 and has attracted eyeballs despite a pause for a year by Covid-19.
With a laser-sharp focus on making the game popular through colourful mats and dazzling lights, making in-stadia and TV viewing experience a quality one through engrossing broadcast levels, broadcasting the matches in regional languages like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada apart from Hindi and English and building heroes out of players, it has made kabaddi a widely followed sport in the hinterland.
For people who keep tabs on broadcast data and sports competitions, they are confident that PKL will lay down the path for indigenous sports properties giving tough competition to global sporting events in terms of viewership.
“PKL 2023 has bettered itself from the previous season. The reach numbers are approximately 8 per cent higher than previous season — and we’ve haven’t even gotten into the business end of the league. Going forward, indigenous sports will continue its strong run giving global events a stiff competition in terms of viewership. We notice this across multiple geographies — like the United States, Australia etc. and India would be no different,” said Vinit Karnik, Head, Sports, Esports and Entertainment at GroupM South Asia, to IANS.
Melroy D’Souza, COO of Professional Management Group (PMG), echoed his views in the same vein to IANS. “PKL is India’s second-biggest sporting property. The numbers, if you see, cricket is India’s biggest sport and PKL does very well even in terms of the reach that cricket has. For example, the Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 had a viewership of 320 million, whereas PKL has a total viewership of 250 million.”
“The biggest difference between PKL and FIFA (World Cup finals) is that FIFA comes once in four years, whereas PKL is an every year event. It is pretty much a niche tournament, which has its sets of fans already there, unlike football which happens once in four years. So, the numbers of opening day aren’t surprising. It only shows that PKL has turned out to be a consistent tournament which fans are looking forward to, every year.”
D’Souza also feels that PKL’s competition is to now compete with the viewing numbers which cricket gets in India. “In terms of India, to be honest, we are a cricket-dominated country. In the events that happen every four years, I don’t think numbers are that great for Olympics. So, the closest second sport in India to be watched after the cricket world cup from a global perspective is FIFA.”
“There is no other sport that we follow. PKL is an established format and happens every year, it has a consistent fan base. The key competition for PKL is not going to be global sports, it will be cricket and how they compete against it, that would be the benchmark.”
More data from BARC suggests that PKL can hold its own in Indian viewership despite a global event like FIFA taking place. As per BARC, the opening day of PKL was watched by 46 million viewers while FIFA World Cup 2022 for the first 6 days was watched by 31 million viewers.
The first 19 games of PKL clocked 8.15 billion minutes while the first 19 games of FIFA World Cup 2022 clocked 6.3 billion minutes. D’Souza recalled a time when the PKL was just starting and many people hadn’t predicted it to now be the cynosure of all eyes when Charu Sharma and Anand Mahindra-founded Mashal Sports joined hands with Disney Star to launch the league in 2014.
“The growth of kabaddi has been amazing. When PKL was to start seven-eight years back, nobody had seen this. I remember Charu talking to me right in the start, saying he’s doing PKL. We all had laughed at him and said Charu is dreaming about it and that it would never have the kind of success.”
“But Charu and Star together have done a great job of revolutionising the way kabaddi is played, consumed and looked. Kabaddi has inspired other sports to have their own leagues like volleyball and kho-kho. I think all have been inspired by kabaddi. If the content wouldn’t have been great, the viewership wouldn’t have sustained and credit to people behind for packaging the whole thing.”