The Prime Volleyball League is set to begin on February 5 with the opening-day clash between hosts Hyderabad (Black Hawks) and Kochi (Blue Spikers). The teams will compete in a round-robin format to make it to the Top 4, with the edition comprising of 24 matches including three knock-out games.

The league arrives as a boost to the Indian volleyball landscape which had been largely stagnant over the past few months due to lack of consistent tournaments. PVL CEO Joy Bhattacharjya, interacting with media in the pre-tournament press conference, opened up on the importance of this tournament in prevailing circumstances.

“This is the first private league in India. In past 75 years, sports have been run by federations; some well, but mostly not well. The big job for federations is to build grassroots sports. But they must give others the opportunity to grow talents because very often, they are not the best people to do that,” Bhattacharjya said.

“This league in a country of 1.3 billion people is trying to take a game which is really popular worldwide and easy to play in limited areas. It is also an opportunity for private businesses to look up and say that if a federation can’t do a sport well, there’s always an opportunity to make a private league, bring marketing brains and try and make a product that people will watch and enjoy.”

Earlier this week, Hyderabad Black Hawks attacker Amit Gulia, in an exclusive interview with this author , had opened up on the struggles of availing regular training facilities in non-league days. Gulia had further mentioned that a lack of consistency in scheduling national camps also forces players like him to train within the confines of home.

As such, an extended tournament will only do wonders – specifically for Indian players. Bhattacharjya agrees.

“I think, definitely,” the PVL CEO replied to a query from Hindustan Times. Bhattacharjya, however, also explains the challenges in running longer league seasons in India.

“The whole idea is to definitely have longer league, more teams. The problem with India is that we don’t have leagues, we have a tournament. Even the IPL is a tournament; albeit a long tournament, but a tournament. It runs for 60 days. Whereas the international league goes for 4-5 months,” says Bhattacharjya.

Why is that?

“There are two realities here: The Indian sporting league runs on sponsorships rather than on gate revenues. As a result, sponsors tend to want their return in shorter amount of time, that’s why the leagues are shorter. But definitely, this time, it’s about a month long and we want to extend it. We want to play in more venues. The single venue situation is a reality of Covid; the third wave of Omicron. Over time, we would definitely want to have more cities participating and more venues.”

Team owners being stakeholders

This is a fairly new concept in India and the one that is inspired by the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States. The Prime Volleyball League authorizes the team owners to take major tournament decisions – but why did it take so long for India to adopt this idea?

” What happens is that you need a long-term commitment from people,” Bhattacharjya tells Hindustan Times.

“Otherwise, what happens is, there will be a team owner who comes in and sees all the glamour of it, stays for a year or two, doesn’t actually like it but has already got the fill of being shown on television. Now, he no longer has the appetite to spend money for the long-term,” explains the PVL CEO.

“Anyone who tells you that they’re making money in year one is lying. Nobody makes money in year one. You have to invest for 3-4 years. A great thing about the sport is, once you do the investment and the league takes off, the returns are absolutely unimaginable. Because your returns keep going on for 10-15-30 years. But in the beginning, you need to have owners who have the faith and belief to stay for the initial 3-4-5 years.”

Bhattacharjya also explains how this helped in the smooth shifting of the venue in the PVL. The tournament was initially scheduled to take place in Kochi; however, due to increasing Covid cases in the city, it was shifted to Hyderabad in late January. Despite the shift taking place relatively closer to the tournament, the scheduling wasn’t impacted.

“As a CEO, even I don’t take independent decisions. So, we sat down and talked to Kochi and Calicut owners about the ground situation and what can we do about it. And then we spoke to Hyderabad on whether we can move the venues to the city. So that’s the beauty of it. They are not just owners who get on the call and ask, ‘Oh, where is the league being played?” says Bhattacharjya.

“Instead of having just one management committee, you have seven very competent people. All these people are here because they are running competent businesses. They are to help the league. It’s a win-win situation; you have stability and you have the trust. That has been a huge help for us.”