India is home to over a dozen leagues in different sports but it is cricket that still sees highest traction. So, what is the potential that Prime Volleyball League sees in India?

After sporting leagues for kabaddi, badminton and football, the new kid on the block is Prime Volleyball League (PVL) that is taking the conversation beyond cricket in India’s sports league ecosystem.

India is home to over a dozen leagues in different sports but it is cricket that still sees highest traction.

So, what is the potential that Prime Volleyball League sees in India?

According to business strategist and angel investor Lloyd Mathias, the past decade has seen sporting leagues for kabaddi (Pro Kabaddi League), badminton (Premier Badminton League), football (Indian Super League) and wrestling (Pro Wrestling League), all trying to emulate the immense success that has been the cricket extravaganza Indian Premier League (IPL).

“Of these, Pro Kabaddi League has been the most successful, having changed the face of kabaddi. The Indian Super League for football, the Hockey India League (HIL) and the badminton league have also managed to attract some of the sport’s top-ranked professionals. Each of the leagues has been able to carve out a sizeable niche and have managed to attract sponsors, media coverage and have benefited the players,” Mathias told Moneycontrol.

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When it comes to PVL, Sandeep Goyal, managing director of ad agency Rediffusion, noted that volleyball is a fast-paced game and easy to understand. “So I think it will slowly gain traction. But season 1 will be a slow start,” he said.

Tuhin Mishra, managing director and co-founder of sports marketing, brand licensing & athlete representation firm Baseline Ventures, echoed this thought, saying that in India volleyball has deep roots. “We all have played the sport in school and college. It is a simple sport to play and not difficult to understand,” he said.

Marketed by Baseline Ventures, PVL will go on air from February 5 on Sony Pictures Network India (SPNI), which is the official broadcaster of the league.

Mishra said they are looking at $2.5 billion in revenue for the league.

Rajesh Kaul, chief revenue officer, distribution, and head, sports business, SPNI, pointed out that viewership for volleyball during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 was almost 34 million on Sony Sports Network even though there was no Indian participation.

Mishra also noted that the PVL that took place in 2019 had recorded close to 21 million viewers. Hence, he thinks that PVL has huge potential. “If we give good content, Indians will lap it up,” he added.

Mathias said that the league’s popularity will depend on the build-up it gets through media, sponsors and celebrity association.

“The support from sponsors will be vital and getting RuPay as a title sponsor and a host of other brands like Byju’s, Cred and Amul (Kool) is a great start,” he said.

The league has got 13 sponsors on board, said Mishra. “PVL is powered by A23, the gaming partner. Then a host of associate sponsors including EatFit, Dafa News, Apollo Hospitals, Cosco. ShareChat and Moj have come on board as official content partners,” he said.

Raghav Anand, segment leader, digital media (AIM Africa, India, Middle East), at Ernst & Young (EY) noted that niche sports league largely depend on broadcast rights, title sponsorship and team sales as there isn’t much of merchandising and ticketing is also small especially for a sport like volleyball.

“Cricket in India occupies more than 87 percent of advertising in sports. So, with broadcast and digital rights being smaller the potential for other leagues becomes smaller. But post-pandemic there are revenue streams from new age companies like fantasy gaming, NFT, RMG and these could be opportunities that physical sports can leverage especially for a sport like volleyball as the cost of execution is lesser in volleyball. They will have to do smart revenue making and expand reach through digital,” he added.

Along with traction from sponsors, Mathias said that PVL’s broadcast on the Sony Network in five languages and on the OTT platform SonyLiv bodes well for the league. “Broadcasting the league in multiple languages is a plus for the tournament especially as volleyball is a niche sport with popularity extending into the interiors,” he added.

Kaul pointed out that Sony Sports has a multi-year deal with Baseline Ventures and this year, they will live-telecast the tournament in Hindi, English, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.

The league will air on SONY TEN 1, SONY TEN 2 (Malayalam), SONY TEN 3 (Hindi) and SONY TEN 4 (Tamil and Telugu).

Apart from aiming for the audience in the Indian subcontinent, matches will be streamed live on Facebook for global viewers, said Mishra.

The upcoming PVL will have 24 matches and will comprise of seven teams from Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and two teams from Kerala.

“We will have a round robin league which means every team will play six matches minimum. The top two teams will play two semi-finals culminating in the final which will be played on February 27. There will be a couple of days where there will be double-headers from 7-9 pm and 9-11 pm,” said Mishra. Mathias thinks that the timing of the league is perfect. “It avoids a clash with the IPL and with the pandemic still rampant, most viewers are still homebound,” he said.

Maryam Farooqui