The fifth season of the Pro Kabaddi League will have 12 teams -- four more than the usual tally of eight -- after new teams were announced for Chennai, Ahmedabad, Lucknow and Haryana on Friday. The league, expected to run for more than three months from July to October 2017, will comprise more than 130 matches that will be played in 11 states. Here's what you need to know:
So it's good news, right?
Absolutely. There aren't too many annual events for kabaddi players in the international arena. These players generally look forward to seasonal events or the yearly South Asian Games to test themselves internationally. Kabaddi has grown geographically, with countries like South Korea and Iran giving India tough competition on the world stage, as seen in the Kabaddi World Cup held last year. This move will not only help the players keep themselves engaged in the game for a longer duration, but the addition of four teams will also allow more players -- national and international -- to come forward and participate. As every team needs a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 12 players, 12 teams would ensure the participation of at least 120 players from all around the world.
Any potential problems?
The main issue would be consumer fatigue. PKL impressed the viewers primarily because of its short format, but now that the previously month-long league will see an extended play time, it will become difficult to keep the public hooked on to it. Moreover, the players, who haven't played tournaments that last up to four months in the past, can end up being injury prone. Every team will now need to have a basic plan of action that would require them to keep shuffling between the participating players, since only seven out of 12 members can participate in one game.
Why the three-month league?
Last year, it was announced that the PKL will have two seasons in a year. However, this year, with new sponsors and a new approach, the league could surpass other Indian leagues like the ISL and the IPL in terms of geographical representation and the overall length of the tournament. The two-seasons-a-year plan was scrapped largely to occupy one cumulative season that will now last longer than the two seasons combined -- both previous seasons lasted a month each.
New owners are big players in Indian business; is this different from the past?
It is different from the past as other than Bengal Warriors (Kishore Biyani, Future Group), all the other teams are either owned by consortium or Bollywood personalities (Abhishek Bachchan - Jaipur and Ronnie Screwvala - Mumbai). The new owners might bring in a greater stream of sponsors and revenues as they are big players in the Indian business and are already associated with other leagues/sports -- GMR owns Delhi Daredevils and JSW owns Bengaluru FC. It might also mean bigger paychecks for the players.
Did the PKL need a lift of profile? Vivo's big bucks and the likes of JSW and GMR coming in have given it an edge now.
It wouldn't be right to say that it needed a lift of profile. In fact, its growing popularity resulted in this lift. PKL had been going strong in the last four seasons. With a reported viewership growth of 51% from its initiation in 2014 till last year, it has only helped in the stability of kabaddi, both in terms of growing viewership as well as providing monetary support to the players. This only gets re-affirmed with the involvement of big brands like Vivo, JSW, GMR and possibly the biggest brand in Indian sport -- Sachin Tendulkar.
So what happens next?
The PKL auctions are supposed to be held in the next 10 days. The teams should, ideally, have larger squads than before (12-member squads were the norm) given that there will be more matches and a longer league. More players will reduce the scope of injuries as players can then be rotated strategically. Also, the bidding prices of the players are expected to go up with the involvement of bigger brands in the league. Last year, raider Mohit Chhillar received the highest bid of Rs 53 lakh, from Bengaluru Bulls.