MUMBAI: As the Pro Kabbadi League prepares to start its second season, a new study has highlighted the myriad factors that go into making sports leagues a success in emerging markets.

GroupM ESP, the sports and entertainment arm of GroupM Media, and IIM Ahmedabad, collaborated on a white paper that assessed what has and hasn't worked around the world and what constitutes best practice in making sports leagues work. 

This pointed to the nature of the sport and its fan base, the performance of the teams, the design of league initiatives to build the fan experience, the relationship of the league with relevant sports associations and the involvement of celebrities among the elements that could make or break a sports league.

The Pro Kabbadi League (PKL) – currently being promoted by Bollywood actor Salman Khan – achieved an unexpected level of success in its first year, gaining high TVRs and levels of engagement among viewers.

It has yet to name a title sponsor for this year, however, with interested parties reported to have balked at the sums being demanded by broadcaster Star Sports. 

But Exchange4Media suggested that more associate sponsors could yet be added to the existing five (VIP Frenchie, State Bank of India, Bajaj Electricals, TVS and Flipkart).

While marketers have so far tended to focus on television, there are also digital options and team sponsorships to be taken up.

Anand Chakravarthy, West Head of Maxus, thought that digital "could be an interesting opportunity for marketers to leverage", given the buzz around season one and the trend towards "snacking content consumption".

Ashish Bhasin, chairman & CEO at Dentsu Aegis Network South Asia, said that advertisers were showing more interest in PKL this year but hesitated to describe it as significant.

"It [PKL] will definitely do well this year, but you cannot compare it with a cricketing event," he said.

Cricket certainly gives advertisers reach. "In India to reach the masses it's either cricket or Bollywood," Nitin Aggarwal, CEO of Prayag Polymers, a bathroom fittings manufacturer, told Campaign India.

To that end, the company is the title sponsor of the India-Zimbabwe one-day series starting today. But, Aggarwal added, "you cannot estimate an ROI when it comes to cricket, because it's unpredictable".

Data sourced from, Exchange4Media, Campaign India; additional content by Warc staff