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How the Pro Kabaddi League changed the face of the sport in India

From a sport struggling for recognition in a country where it was invented to making it one of the most-watched sports leagues, the PKL surely changed the face of Kabaddi in India.




Abhijit Nair

Published: 13 Oct 2021 2:29 PM GMT

Ever since its inception in the year 2014, the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) has been one of the most followed sports leagues in India. In fact, in its very first season, the PKL managed to rake up a total of 435 million viewers and more than 2.3 billion impressions on social media.

To put things into perspective, the very first season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008 had just a total of 101 million viewers. That's how big the PKL was!

By the time the first season of PKL drew to a close, Kabaddi went from being a sport mainly played in the rural regions of India to a mainstream sport. The success of the league was further reiterated by the fact that Star India bought a 74% stake in Mashal Sports – the organisers of PKL, in the year 2015 and got directly involved in the league.

Though the PKL faced a minor blip during its 6th season with a dip in viewership, it picked itself up during the 7th season and continues to grow in stature.

Kabaddi before PKL was a lot different. The scoring in the game was usually very slow-paced and it quite certainly lacked glamour.

All this changed when the PKL was launched. The organisers tweaked the rule a bit and bought in the much-needed glamour bringing together Bollywood stars, industrialists and other sportspersons as owners of the team.

The introduction of 'do or die raids' – a raid in which the raider has to win a point by hook or by crook following two successive empty raids, and 'super tackle' wherein the defending side gets two points if they successfully tackle the raider when there are only two defenders on the court contributed immensely in making the sport thrilling.

This coupled with air-conditioned venues, laser shows and music which welcomed the fans further piqued the interest for the league amongst the fans. Besides, the multi-camera telecast system which showcased the match from each and every possible angle made the viewing experience for fans watching from home even better.

Someone like an Abhishek Bachchan owning a team and the legendary Amitabh Bachchan gracing the venue of the match only added to the thrilling Kabaddi action put on display by some of the best players in the world.

The marketing genius put in action by Star India was just the icing on the cake. The term 'Le Panga' translating take your own fight not only became synonymous with the Pro Kabaddi League but also caught on amongst teenagers in the country who uttered it every now and then.

Moreover, the 'thigh-slap' celebration became somewhat of a cult in the country. First seen in the PKL, the celebration caught on and became a regular celebratory routine for Shikhar Dhawan – one of India's most popular cricketers. Besides, terms like 'dubki', 'toe touch' and others became a household.

From a sport struggling for recognition in a country where it is believed to have been invented, to making it one of the most-watched sports leagues the Pro Kabaddi League surely changed the face of Kabaddi in India.

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