PWL is delivering ratings in certain markets, which is going to challenge IPL
The Professional Wrestling League aka Pro Wrestling League became talk of the town when ace Indian boxer Sushil Kumar decided to bid adieu to his magnificent international career and join the Pro Wrestling League. The Indian boxer punched down many a leading Pro Boxers after entering the new ring and hence the league became a matter of discussion among the sports circuit of India. To some extent, this move by Sushil Kumar helped Pro Wrestling League to eant into the pie of cricket crazy nation and is becoming a sports gala like IPL.
The second season of the Pro Wrestling League (PWL) kicked off on November 3 with a fashion show. Hang on. Wrestling and fashion?
With venerables like Babita Phogat, Yogeshwar Dutt, Geeta Phogat and Sakshi Malik posing with the Great Khali of WWE Champion fame in the hautest of haute couture?
“It helps in grabbing eyeballs,“ explained a sports promotion professional from the sidelines. “Common people like to see sport stars in a different avatar.”
Which is precisely what the PWL is doing with wrestling decking it up. The league’s promoters back up their claim of its inaugural season last year being a success with Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) data. According to them, PWL 2015 was watched by close to 3.5 crore people every day a bigger viewership than the other leagues in the country, including the Indian Super League (ISL) and the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL). The IPL is their “biggest competitor,” they feel.
“PWL is delivering ratings in certain markets, which is going to challenge IPL. That’s the game changer,” says Vishal Gurnani, Director, Pro Sportify, the company that is organising PWL. “We are targeting Rs 100 crore in revenue in Season 2,” he adds.
Setting targets is one thing and achieving them quite another. It’s not to say that PWL can’t deliver. Wrestling, like boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) is being attempted to be sold like cricket and football. But aping the concept of other successful leagues doesn’t guarantee success, especially when the nature of the sport you are trying to promote is individual-centric and the business model you are bringing in is meant for a team sport.
The charm of a combat sport lies in the individuality of the fighter. The fate of the contest depends on the ability of an athlete, not on the collective ability of a team. There is no one to cover your back.
However, Kartikeya Sharma, founder of PWL, has his own reasons to go with the tried-and-tested `team format’ of a league system. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We came up with a format, we evolved, we innovated and it worked. When you turn an individual sport into a team sport, it’s always challenging. But the formula worked. That’s why so many people watched us during Season 1. And there is no right or wrong way of doing it,” says Kartikeya.
2012 London Olympics bronze medal winning wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt believes in collective growth. He feels the team format will serve the sport better. “You have to see how many youngsters [the team format] is going to benefit. If you go and promote one or two wrestlers, how will the youngsters improve?”
Wrestling as a spectator sport in India has long lived in the shadow of the Olympics. Wrestlers are stars before the Games and a medal can stretch that stardom to a few more months. But then cricket takes over. “Cricket doesn’t have an Olympics. If cricketers can get popular without playing in the Olympics, why can’t our wrestlers?” asks Sakshi Malik, 2016 Olympic bronze winner. The PWL could be a game changer, yes. But it certainly wasn’t planned that way. It was started with an aim to better India’s showing at the Olympics, not to compete with it.
“The league is an enabler. Essentially the league is trying to bring in the level of competition that is best in the world, so that our wrestlers are exposed to the best talent globally,” says Kartikeya. “If I were to put it in the context of the Olympics, our target is to have at least “five medals in the next Games. And that will be an achievement for this league format.”
Sakshi also believes that PWL helped her become a better wrestler. “Speaking from my personal experience, it’s very helpful. Last year’s league gave me a lot of motivation. You get an opportunity to compete with wrestlers from across the world at your home ground, which is a big positive for all of us. We had Olympians and world champions in our team who taught us a lot,” she says.
The league is just one season old and it’s too early to know whether it will be deemed a success or failure or, for that matter, what it can do for the sport of wrestling in India in the longer run. “I can commit to you that wrestling is here to stay and it’s going to grow very, very big in times to come,” Kartikeya has the last word. As of now.