After being home to the Indian Premier League for eight years, Multi Screen Media’s (MSM) live events and Hindi movie channel Sony Max is all set to air India’s first ever domestic wrestling league. Promoted by ProSportify, a sports events company run by Vishal Gurnani and Kartikeya Sharma, the Pro Wrestling League (PWL) goes on air on December 10, with the opening match in Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Stadium. This marks the channel’s entry into non-cricket sports, an area that has seen significant action over the past year.
Sony Max, which is headed by Neeraj Vyas, will be airing the matches in Hindi along with Sony Pal, the third Hindi general entertainment channel from the network while MSM’s flagship sports channel Sony Six will air the matches in English. “It is a testing point for us at Max. We have the reach and with the IPL, we have a proven track record for making sure a property reaches the masses. While cricket is a visible sport, wrestling is a sport that has an on-ground presence in the country. The akhada culture still exists today, even in some pockets of metros like Mumbai. It is a very popular sport in the smaller areas,” says Vyas.
Clearly the channel is hoping the popularity of the sport will bring in the audiences and is banking on the fact that contact sports with an on-ground presence do well on Hindi movie channels. It hopes to replicate the success of Star India which aired the Pro Kabaddi League in 2014 on Star Gold; the channel helped drive as much as 40 per cent of the total viewership for the league. Vyas and Gurnani both agree that this is one of the reasons for choosing to air the tournament on Max and Pal. “We have seen that sports with an on-ground presence do well on movie channels. Add to that, Max has a very good reach in markets across the country. It also is a platform that has a healthy mix of male and female viewers,” adds Gurnani.
The network is expected to be the broadcast partner of the league for the next five years. Experts believe that if all goes to plan, the network will have enough and more time to break even on its investment on the PWL and make profits by the end of this tenure. The league is still to sign on sponsors, although sources say that auto and beverage brands like Maruti and Thums Up have shown a keen interest. Both Gurnani and Vyas refused to comment on the same. But Gurnani said that the league is looking at least six on-ground sponsors – one title sponsor, one ‘powered by’ sponsor and four associate sponsors.
The total cost of organising the event is around Rs 50 crore and sponsorships are expected to make around Rs 20 crore for the promoters. At the auctions teams spent up to Rs 11 crore to get 9 players on their side from an international and domestic pool. Additionally, each team has forked out around Rs 3 crore as franchise fee.
The league’s marketing plans cover traditional and new media opportunities and the promotional spots are already out, delivering the message of physical and mental strength with a focus on the participants of the league. “The good thing is, wrestling as a sport is recognised. We have won medals at multiple international fora for it, including the Olympics. Unlike kabaddi, people are actually acquainted with some of the faces and with Bollywood churning out two movies – Sultan (Salman Khan) and Dangal (Aamir Khan) around wrestlers next year, the buzz is more than ever before. This makes the marketing a bit easier. We have stuck to simple messaging in a ‘cool’ way with the tagline – Khel Fauladi,” says Vyas.
The tournament will be aired between 7 and 9 p.m. from December 10 to December 27. While there will be no pre or post match programming, the channel plans to run shows that educate audiences about the rules of the sport and familiarise them with the wrestling’s long association with the sub-continent.