If you're one of the many who mocked the creation of a new kabaddi league, take this: over 435 million people watched season one of the Pro Kabaddi League from beginning to end last year.
That's why, when season two kicks off today, July 18 in Mumbai, there's more than just good intentions about promoting a 'dying' sport involved - there's a strong, engaged audience waiting to back their teams with all the passion of other competitive sports.
The National Sports Club of India in Mumbai will host the first game of the tournament in which last year's finalists, Jaipur Pink Panthers and U Mumba, come face-to-face once again. Amitabh Bachchan, who sang the theme song for the tournament, will lead the National Anthem before the match.
The teams and owners
- Bengal Warriors (Kolkata) - owned by the Future Group
- Bengaluru Bulls (Bengaluru) - owned by Kosmik Global Media
- Dabang Delhi (Delhi) - owned by DoIT Sports Management
- Jaipur Pink Panthers (Jaipur) - owned by Abhishek Bachchan
- Patna Pirates (Patna) - owned by Rajesh Shah
- Puneri Paltan (Pune) - owned by Insurekot Sports
- Telugu Titans (Hyderabad) - owned by Veera Sports
- U Mumba (Mumbai) - owned by Ronnie Screwvala's Uniblazer Sports
Like its cricketing counterpart the Indian Premier League, the Pro Kabaddi League has eight teams.
Abhishek Bachchan's Jaipur team emerged on top in the first season, defeating U Mumba after finishing the league stage on top of the table.
The league stage of the tournament will be held in eight phases, with seven games in each leg at a single venue. Mumbai will hold the first, from 18 to 21 July. The tournament will then move to Kolkata, Jaipur, Patna, Hyderabad, Delhi, Bengaluru and end in Pune. It will culminate in Mumbai where the semi-finals, third-place playoff and the finals will be held.
During the league stage, a team will gain five points for every win, and three points for a draw. If a team loses a game by seven or fewer points, it will be awarded one point. The top four teams of the league stage will move to the semis, where the team placed on top in the league will face the fourth-placed team, and the team in second position will face the one in the third.
Instead of a traditional mud pitch, the competition will be held indoors, using synthetic mats.
Sponsorship, broadcasting and prize money
Promoted by Anand Mahindra's Mashal Sports, the success of the first season of PKL has seen it rope in some famous brands (Flipkart, Thums Up, TVS Motors, Bajaj Electricals, etc.) as associate sponsors this season. Star Sports, which bought a 74% stake in Mashal Sports, is the official broadcaster of the tournament, as well as its title sponsor.
The 2015 edition will be broadcast live in five languages across eight channels, with Star aiming to improve the quality of production from the last season. The winners of the tournament will receive Rs 1 crore, while the runners-up, third and fourth placed teams will be awarded Rs 50 lakh, Rs 30 lakh and Rs 20 lakh respectively.
Foreign players and Shiv Sena objection
All the teams will be allowed to have a squad of up to 25 players this season, a significant increase from last season's 14-player limit. This has been done to allow franchises to field more young and local players. The involvement of foreign players will also go up this term, with players from Iran, in particular, set to feature prominently.
Like last season, there will be players from Pakistan as well, and that has not gone down well with Maharashtra's Shiv Sena. Members of the party stormed into the office of Star Sports on Thursday, 16 July, and threatened to disrupt the tournament if players from the neighbouring country weren't excluded. It's left the organisers mildly apprehensive as they await the green light from local authorities before reconfirming the participation of Pakistani players in the Mumbai leg. But the politicking cannot take away from the buzz and behind-the-scenes enthusiasm building up for an age-old sport that's finally acquiring a contemporary swagger.