Pro Volleyball League, a 50:50 joint venture by Baseline Ventures India and Volleyball Federation of India (VFI), will start its inaugural season on February 2 next year with six city-based teams on the roster. The franchises, which will battle it out over three weeks, include Ahmedabad, Calicut, Kochin, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Chennai (see chart).
Slated to be held from February 2 to 22, the league will be telecast on Sony Six (English) and Sony TEN 3 (Hindi), part of the sports bouquet from Sony Pictures Network India (SPN).
A total of 20 parties picked up the tender documents for franchise ownership, with those from 14 cities including Delhi up for grabs. However, since the promoters wanted to keep things compact in the first season, only six franchises were awarded.
“We were looking for parties that had a passion for the sport. We want people/companies who are in it for the long run. These things (leagues) take time and effort. The six franchises and owners we have with us are committed to the sport. Once we saw that, it was a matter of checking their financials and awarding ownership,” says Joy Bhattarchajya, chief executive officer, Pro Volleyball League.
The broadcaster has already released a commercial announcing the league’s telecast on its network. The commercial features shuttler P V Sindhu who has lent her support to the league. Over the next two months, the network will put out more promotional material. “We’ve always been committed to growing non-cricket sports and volleyball has great on-ground connect. Data and intuition both say that the sport has affinity in the rural areas as well. It was among the most sampled sports in the Rio Olympics with more than 50 million viewers tuning in to it from India. During the Asian Games, more than 20 million viewers tuned in to watch the volleyball matches,” says Prasana Krishnan, head – content, sports, SPN. The female viewership pie for these tournaments was also high at over 40 per cent in both cases. Pro Kabaddi and the Indian Premier League have similar contribution by female viewers.
The states of Punjab and Haryana are among the top markets for volleyball viewership. However, with no teams from north India, there could be an impact on the viewership of the league. The Hindi Speaking Market (HSM) is an important market in terms of volume, and hence among the top priorities for advertisers. The promoters and broadcaster however are confident that the lack of a team from north or east will not impact the viewership.
“For the first couple of years, it is about building the league. We’re positive that the quality of matches will attract eyeballs,” says Krishnan.
Ronnie Screwvala, who co-owns a team in the league, said the success of a sport depends greatly on its pace, and in that light, volleyball has good prospects on TV. “India needs five top sports. There is cricket, but now it’s time to bring the other four to the fore and volleyball is one of them,” he said.
“From the work I do in rural areas through my NGO, I know that volleyball has great potential in the rural areas as well,” he said.
Screwvala will be extending the brand of his sports team UMumba in this league. UMumba plays in the Pro Kabaddi league, and is owned by Screwvala's U Sports as well. The team in the Pro Volleyball league will be called UMumba Volley, extending the sports team brand to the new league.
Pro Volleyball League’s first season will be held in Kochi (Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium) and Chennai (Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium). Each of the six teams will comprise 12 players including two foreign players, one Indian icon player and two Indian U-21 players. The six teams will fight it out over 18 matches with each team playing each other once in a round-robin format and the top four teams qualifying for the semi-finals.
The player salary cap for each team is Rs 7.5 million for the inaugural year while the base franchise fee is estimated at Rs 30 million. Bhattarcharjya said, “The idea is to keep the costs low for everyone, just like kabaddi (Pro Kabaddi). There will be some losses in the initial years for the teams, but I don’t think that number will be more than Rs 15 to 20 million. If all goes well, I believe the teams could be in the black by the third year or so.”