Pro Kabaddi League Season 8 returns after two years: What has changed?

The league will be played in Bengaluru sans any LIVE audience

Mumbai: Pro Kabaddi League, one of the fastest-growing sports franchises in terms of viewership is all set to return on 22 December, after a two-year hiatus, imposed by the pandemic.

Like sporting events, the league has also undergone format changes owing to Covid-19 protocols. This time, all matches will be played in Bengaluru, sans any LIVE audience to cheer their favourite teams. But, this may not mar the enthusiasm of the fans who have been waiting for the sporting event, say agency experts. The official broadcaster Star Sports Network too has upped its ante and pushed its marketing efforts to regain the viewership that the series enjoyed pre-pandemic.

Will PKL see a similar resurgence in viewership like the IPL?

According to the Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc), the sports genre had 2.4 per cent share in the overall TV viewership before Covid struck. This decreased to 0.7 per cent during the first lockdown, then increased marginally to 0.8 per cent during Unlock period, and grew once again to 4.1 per cent by the end of the year. The Indian Premier League (13th season) that was aired between week 38 and week 45 increased sports viewership by six times compared to previous weeks (week 34-37). (BARC Yearbook 2020)

“IPL in 2020 had a format shift due to Covid-19, however TV ratings saw an increase by about 50 per cent. One of the major reasons was high TV viewership during pandemic and lockdown. But, the viewership went back to 2019 levels in 2021,” said MediaCom managing partner Vishal Shah.

It is also significant to note that IPL was the only major sports event that was aired in the pandemic year 2020. Since people were confined to their homes and starved of LIVE sports action, TV viewership increased across genres. While, PKL may not have that advantage, because 2021 has turned out to be a tremendous year for LIVE sports with a packed sporting event calendar, especially in the second half.

“Looking at the ratings trend this year, the numbers might be slightly lower than what the last season did, as the overall numbers have changed in the past two years,” said dentsu Amplifi India group trading director Sujata Dwibedy. “But, good marketing from the (Star Sports) network, across media is expected. This should pull more viewers.”

Campaign in full swing

Star Sports has already kicked off the promotions for the eighth season of PKL roping in M S Dhoni for their ad campaign. More recently, the broadcaster released a regional ad film playing up the opening match of PKL between Telugu Titans and Tamil Thalaivas on 22 December. The promo featured movie star Naga Chaitanya, indicating that the marketing efforts are in full swing.

“In 2019, PKL witnessed 50-55 per cent growth in viewership from the previous season across different audiences and markets,” observed MediaCom managing partner Vishal Shah.

Kabaddi being a homegrown sport, the league has enormous support and viewership from the Tier II and III towns. PKL viewership base largely comes from markets like Andhra Pradesh/Telangana (32 per cent) followed by Maharashtra/Goa (24 per cent), Karnataka (12 per cent) and Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu Kashmir (seven per cent) and Kerala (five per cent), as per the BARC data.

The viewership for PKL is much more evenly spread out according to dentsu’s Dwibedy. “It is not necessary that only people from the hinterland and Tier II towns have been viewing it (PKL), it has its loyal fans across demographics and across audiences but is skewed towards males,” she added.

No LIVE audience at this year’s spectacle

This year PKL will be missing LIVE audiences and will shed the caravan style format. Instead, all teams will play at a single location in Bengaluru. Looking back at IPL last year, media planners suggest that format changes will have little to no impact on the viewership of the tournament. Mashal Sports has also announced that triple headers will be played on all Saturdays which may have a positive impact on the viewership over weekends.

New categories of advertisers likely

Ad rates and sponsorship for PKL are likely to see a premium in proportion to the growth in audiences that the event saw in 2019.

According to dentsu’s Dwibedy, brands who found cricket very expensive but want to still associate with some impactful property will be looking to partner with PKL, along with brands who genuinely see a fit with PKL and want to amplify their presence through the series. “We could also see some new categories of advertisers emerging as sponsors,” she added.

“The other opportunity is also to do with the season and timing, IPL has always been a popular choice for summer brands whereas PKL is happening in a period that will attract winter seasonal brands,” said Mediacom’s Shah.

Categories such as e-sports, e-pharmacy, auto, telecom, beverages, mobile handsets, paan masala, deodorants, paints, and cement have consistently been associated with the tournament and are expected to do the same this year.

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