Premier League is among the greatest sporting entities in the world, one that caters to a large audience spread across the globe. It's among few sporting entertainment products in the world that's hard to match or rival. Although, there is little harm in trying.
Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), a rare local competition that's managed to capture the imagination of the Indian populace, is attempting to do just that. Having already establishing itself as the country's second-best franchise-based competition after the Indian Premier League, the kabaddi league is flexing its muscles to go a step further and try and emulate what competitions like Premier League have achieved over the last few decades.
The fifth season of the PKL will see 12 teams spread across 11 Indian states, participate in a league that will last for three months, with matches being played almost on a daily basis. So in terms of the duration, number of teams, and its spread, the PKL can claim to be the biggest sporting league in India.
Just three years since the launch, this is a big leap for the league and especially for the sport that was previously devoid of widespread visibility, and popular in certain rural pockets in the country.
To ensure this expansion of the league from 8 teams to 12, translates into something more than just a gutsy call, PKL have roped in Nic Coward, a former Premier League general secretary as adviser to help league's smooth transition into its expanded format and grow further.
"Pro Kabaddi has grown enormously in the past four seasons, and we want to leave no stone unturned to take it to newer heights. We are at a stage where it’s imperative for us to learn from successful global sports leagues. Mr Nic Coward brings a wealth of experience from his association with the Premier League which is the most followed sports broadcast content properties across the globe," Pro Kabaddi's League Commissioner Anupam Goswami told Firstpost in an exclusive interview.
"In terms of professionalising the sport, and helping youngsters perceive kabaddi as a viable career avenue, Mr Nic Coward is helping us chart the next chapter of growth for Pro Kabaddi," Goswami added.
Coward's main function as general secretary of the Premier League was to keep the clubs, the league, the federation, broadcasters and the other players on the same page and make them follow an unified path to ensure all the standards in terms of conducting the matches are met. Apart from that, Coward played a big role in implementing the Elite Player Performance Plan, a long-term strategy for the Premier League clubs aiming at development of more and better home-grown players.
England's recent exploits at junior level competitions at various age groups prove that it is starting to bear fruits, and Coward rightly takes special pride in that.
Following a similar model, Season 5 of PKL will see each team include a certain number of young players in their squads, who have been scouted from different parts of the country. Coward is keen on building a a similar player policy in PKL that helps teams to build their squad, acquire young talent, develop superstars and retain them. His inputs before the auctions were key in having 12 teams fairly equal in terms of strength.
"We can analyse all that we want but in the end, the game is about the players. It is about talent on the mat. It’s also about stars, personalities which get more people involved in the sport. So it was important to have a player policy," Coward told Firstpost in an interview on the sidelines of the Pro Kabaddi Media Forum last month.
"So we have set a pathway through player policy to give franchises the access to some of the best talents and enable them to keep it for as long as they wish, or as long as the player wants to be there, and also to help the teams keep the big stars, the big names with them," he added.
The Englishman however confirmed that despite allowing retention of talent, regular auctions will remain in the scheme of things to allow teams a chance to refresh their roster and stay competitive.
"The competition we are part of is sporting entertainment, so we must have a competitive league with great talent playing in highly competitive matches. It will help us develop passionate fans who can create a great atmosphere inside the stadium. That will allow us to attract more people into the stadium which will lead to more sponsors, better broadcast numbers and greater revenue which can be reinvested back into the sport," the 47-year-old reasoned.
The new player policy will be tested with the league expanding to 12 teams. But the Englishman feels it will only help them assess it in the best way possible and modify it if the need arises.
"The biggest challenge for us this time was obviously to have four new franchises. We want all the new franchises to believe that they can win it from day one. I have worked closely with the chief executive, the franchises to implement the player policy that will help them achieve all of their objectives," Coward added.
"Another key change that you will see is that the franchises will have a greater existence outside the playing season. Now the focus is pretty much on the playing season. Once it ends the franchise go away a bit as they don’t have the players. This is going to change from here on with the franchises being able to make decisions in terms of their retained players much in advance so that people and the fans know who their stars are. There could be longer-term programs in off-season where the players will be able to engage in more community work which will make sure that the 12 franchises will grow their presence," he added.
Speaking about the commercial growth, Coward, who was also the Football Association's first in-house lawyer in the past, felt monetary success is a product of strong partnerships the league has with its partners, an area where he feels PKL are already on the right track.
"If you look at the NBA, the Premier League and the success they have had, you will find great partnerships at the heart of it. The partnerships between sport and the federations, and specially between the sport and the broadcaster is very important. In kabaddi, there is a slightly different dynamic because Star India is so closely aligned in the way that PKL has evolved. My view from what I have picked up is that there is so much of a ‘can do’ attitude among the organisers, the franchise and the broadcaster that it has helped the league grow at an incredible pace. It is different from the traditional relationship where the broadcaster is a bit further away from league. I won't say the changes wouldn’t have been made had the broadcaster not been involved so much, but the pace would have been a lot slower," Coward assessed.
Coward wasn't completely unaware of the sport when he got the call from PKL, as he remembers coverage of the sport in British media, albeit of the traditional form. Having watched the glimpses of the new avatar, the Englishman was pleased to see the traditions of the sport being retained.
"Another things which particularly impresses me about PKL is the relationship with the federations is also very strong. The context of the sport and where it has come from, the traditions are all very well understood," he stated.
So with a strong partner relations in place, Coward, a former Wembley stadium board member, believes the next step for the PKL would be to help the teams learn more about franchise management, groom the all-round personalities of the players.
"On the players’ side, helping the franchise develop their all-round understanding of franchise management, team management will be key from here on. The league and the franchises must work on other ways in which the players can be developed. Language is one of those aspects," declared Coward.
Coward expects PKL to start showing hallmarks of a top league from the upcoming season where everyone will have full knowledge of their respective roles, have faith in each other to perform their own duties and work towards a common goal with a real sense of purpose.
Pro Kabaddi being the pioneer of the sport's new form has the opportunity to be kabaddi's Premier League one day. It will certainly be a long process, but with people like Nic Coward on board, PKL making an impact globally remains very much in realms of reality.
Updated Date: Jul 21, 2017 19:48:10 IST