Not resting on the laurels of the first season, the Pro Kabaddi League organisers plan on making the second season (started on 18 July) bigger and better in terms of quality of matches, broadcast and reach of the league.
Nitin Kukreja, Head of Star Sports, said that the success of the first season took kabaddi to the league of IPL (Indian Premier League) and World Cup in terms of viewership. Having said that, he said his team was focused on making considerable improvements the second time around.
«The squad strength of the teams has been bolstered from 14 during the inaugural edition last year to 25 for the second season. More players from Iran – the closest competitor for India internationally – will be seen in action,” said Kukreja. The increase in squad size allows for the teams to include more local players and young talent, but also cope with injuries better.
He added that the graphics and analytics will also be better this time around, with more ‹in-vision coverage› – where the commentators are much closer to the field of play. Star will also telecast the matches in five languages – English, Hindi, Kannada, Telugu and Marathi – in order to have the sport reach more viewers. «The league will also be broadcast in 109 countries, including United States, United Kingdom and Middle East,» he added.
Charu Sharma, Director of Mashal Sports, and one of the brains behind setting up the Pro Kadabbi League said it was ‹almost miraculous› how the first season had come together, garnering 435 million viewers on television and packed stadiums in all eight cities the league was played in. «Pro Kabaddi was all about bringing pride and respect back into kabaddi — a long forgotten ancient sport — and we matched our expectations and then 10 times more,» he said.
Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Charu Sharma said the league definitely has plans to expand to more teams but they are conscious not to do it for the first three seasons.
«We want to give the initial advantage to the current franchises as it was hard enough to bring the eight teams in. We want to give them a head start. We could go up to 16 teams in the future, but keeping the number of teams even, maybe add two at a time.»
The main criteria for a new owner to come in would be to have a quality indoor stadium in their city, added Sharma.
«In terms of player representation we encourage teams to start their local programs so that local people fit into their teams. They may not be big stars, but they are the biggest aspiration point for other kabaddi players in the city. We don›t intend to have any more auctions,» Sharma told Firstpost.
“Pro Kabaddi League has not only revitalised the sport but has also made kabaddi a viable career option for young talent across the country,” said International Kabaddi Federation’s president, Janardhan Singh Gehlot, who wants to see kabaddi become a Olympic event soon.
The stars from the first season who were present at the trophy-unveiling ceremony in Mumbai, spoke about the increased attention and recognition that they have received over the past year. Rakesh Kumar, raider from Patna Pirates and two-time Asian games gold medalist, said that before Pro Kabaddi happened he could go on the streets of New Delhi without anyone noticing.
“Nowadays, I get people who want to take pictures with me in malls and markets,” Rakesh said.
The first leg of the event, which will follow a caravan style playing format where seven matches will be played in each of the eight cities, started in Mumbai. Amitabh Bachchan, who has crooned the ‘Le Panga’ number for promoting the league, performed the National Anthem on the opening night.