View: Volleyball is in our court



On September 15th, we launched the Prime Volleyball League (PVL), India’s first independent professional volleyball league and, in many ways, the country’s first independent sports league. And we were inundated with two sets of questions.

First, how was an independent ‘private’ league different from the many leagues we have seen here since

in 2008 – from football to hockey via kabaddi and even poker? And second, what made us choose volleyball among the many sports available?

Let’s start with the first one. Thirteen years after the start of the IPL, more than a dozen leagues have sprung up in other sports. And unfortunately, apart from the Indian Premier League of Cricket, the Indian Super League (ISL) of Football and the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), none have survived. There are a few basic reasons behind this.

First, any investment in sport only pays off in the medium to long term. Even IPL, everyone’s big daddy, had teams that hit profitability after the first five years of operation, and didn’t really make money until after the new deal with Star Sports.

This basically means that owners and federations had to stay invested for that long.

And if the federation has serious internal feuds, or if senior officials suddenly go greedy, they might just decide to change the rules or even cancel the event unless they get what they want. This has happened quite regularly over the past few years.

And then you have a lot of owners who didn’t have much to do with sports, who really enjoyed being on TV the first year, and then decided they didn’t need to waste any time. money year after year to stay in the sport. Add to that the fact that many league promoters have made exaggerated projections on revenue and audience, and you have

a perfect storm of heavy losses, uncertainty and a confidence deficit enough to derail most businesses.

Prime Volleyball has tried to work around this problem in several ways. First, the Indian Competition Commission (ICC) allows any group of individuals to form a league. He has indeed rendered a series of judgments to this effect, so it is perfectly possible to constitute a league without the endorsement of a federation.

If that sounds blasphemous, this is exactly how the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States, the Premier League in England, and many other sports leagues work. This eliminates the first problem of uncertainty.

And the second, still in line with the Premier League and the NBA, is that team owners are stakeholders in the league as well.

This means that they are invested in the sustainability of its success and that they also have a say in how the event is organized and managed. It is a model for successful leagues around the world. If the Prime Volleyball League delivers on its promises, it should spark a wave of Indian sports leagues based on the same model.

The second question is why “volleyball?” – probably the most unknown sport in the country. It’s like football or cricket, a game most played, but unlike them few watched it on TV in India outside of the Olympics.

Volleyball has a few basic advantages. Like football, it is a “low-resource” sport – you need very little space and infrastructure to make a grassroots volleyball court. It is also extremely popular in rural and urban India, and few sports covers divide very well.

And it is a sport “on television” or “on the screen”. This is understood to mean a game that is easy to follow and which is displayed well on the screen. A big ball, tall men and women who can jump frightening heights, and the small pitch mean that unlike, say, polo or even hockey, the game is easy to follow and can be made to look good. And, like cricket – and unlike football – it takes natural breaks after every match. It sounds insignificant, but it makes a huge difference to potential sponsors.

Thus, the PVL is a test to find out whether India can adapt the paths of the international sports economy. And its success could be a significant step forward on a journey that began with IPL in 2008.

The writer is CEO of the Prime Volleyball League (PVL)


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