NEW DELHI: Kabbadi, described as "combining the characteristics of wrestling and rugby", is the latest sport to attract the attention of brands seeking new ways to connect with their target audiences in India.

While cricket has long been India's premier sport, broadcasters and sponsors have been looking for other areas to invest in, including football, hockey and badminton. Now two new kabbadi tournaments have been launched – the Pro Kabbadi League (PKL) and the World Kabaddi League (WKL) – bringing money into a centuries-old game widely played in rural areas.

And that is a major attraction for brands, which see an opportunity of reaching rural consumers, who are now an increasingly important market. As Charu Sharma, whose Mashal Sports helped set up the PKL, told Livemint: "This is a mass sport and plenty of mass consumer brands and products are looking for mass-base properties. Everyone wants to head to tier 2, tier 3 towns; profits are coming from there."

Those businesses getting on board appear pleased with the results so far. Ankit Patidar, vp/marketing at Shakti Pumps, which sponsors the Jaipur Pink Panther team in the PKL, told the Economic Times that brand awareness was increasing, with "customers coming and discussing the game with our local distribution team".

Leading retailer Future Group owns the Bengal Warriors team in the PKL and has generated huge interest by organising kabaddi matches outside Big Bazaar outlets in the state West Bengal in a search for new talent.

"The investment has turned out so well from a business point of view that we are hoping to break even in just three years," said Sandip Tarkas, president customer strategy, at Future Group and CEO of Bengal Warriors. "The tournament has struck a chord with rural as well as urban audience," he added.

The WKL is an international event, featuring eight teams in five countries, including the UK, US, Canada and Pakistan as well as India, and played to different rules. "Both these leagues are two different products for two different markets," according to Prasana Krishnan, EVP and business head, Sony SIX, which is broadcasting the event.

"I don't think kabaddi is big from a revenue perspective because it has never been done commercially," he told afaqs!. "Only time will tell how much of the rural familiarity will translate to viewership."

Data sourced from Economic Times; Livemint, afaqs!; additional content by Warc staff