The indigenous Indian sport, Panja is about to be rejuvenized and revolutionized into a complete franchise competition with the commencement of the Pro Panja League (PPL).
The inaugural season of the PPL will kick off on July 28 and go on till August 13 at the IGI Stadium. The debut season will consist of 10 weight classifications, including three women’s, six men’s and a physically challenged category. The tournament will be contested between six teams of 30 players, each.
Mumbai Muscle, owned by Mr Punit Balan, and Kiraak Hyderabad, owned by Mr Gautam Reddy, were the first two teams that were revealed. Later, Ludhiana Lions, Kochi KD’s, Baroda Badshahs, and Rohtak Rowdies also joined the competition.
SportsMint Media got an opportunity of speaking to the Co-founders of Pro Panja League, Mr Parvin Dabas and Ms Preeti Jhangiani. In this exclusive interaction, we understood multiple facets of measures taken before laying out an inaugural edition of an indigenous sport. The duo went on to shed light on the monetary benefits offered by the competition, sponsorship acquisitions, Sony’s backing and much more.
1. What led to the inception of the Pro Panja League?
I’ve always been a sportsman and got involved in sports in 2016–17. By following MMA India.com, I started thinking of sports promotions in which I could get involved and that’s where Panja came to me as a sport, which every other Indian understands, and it has a homegrown name and ethos as well. I knew that every Indian would understand the basic idea behind it and the basic rules. I believed it could reach people if it was marketed and pushed properly. So that was the initial idea behind PPL.
2. Will the monetary benefits through this competition encourage athletes to join the sport and Pro Panja League?
Yes, absolutely, because until now, athletes did not have huge monetary benefits from the sport, but since we entered, they have started making money. We always make sure we give a cash price. We take care of their travel and everything else. So they’re really being taken care of. Even in terms of their social media growth, they’re creating more avenues of income. Not just from the sport, because if you look at any sport, athletes make about 15 to 20 per cent income from actually playing the sport and the rest from endorsements.
So we’ve been giving them that education as well. How to grow their social media and how to grow their supplemental income as well. PPL has 260 plus million views across social media. So social media has already shown that people do want to watch the sport. We feel it’s going to be huge in India, especially, but it already is huge abroad and there are a lot of athletes who want to come down here in India because they’re seeing what’s happening down here.
3. On asking about the Pro Panja League’s business front, Mr Parvin Dabas said:
See, the first season is always an investment time to grow a sport. When you plan to grow a sport, you have to back it up for three-four seasons. People have to see value in the sport, see it’s not a sport which people have seen how is it played on the professional front, right? So we have to show them the value, which they will see after the first season, itself.
4. How significant will be the presence of a popular athlete in the Pro Panja League?
Every sport needs its stars and what is popularity? popular translates into a star, right? If you’re popular, you become a star. So like I said, we’ve already got athletes who have a million followers on youtube, which is not a small feat. We are developing these guys, and there are a lot of guys who people follow regularly, who have big social media followings and you need those four-five stars to get a league going and we are very aware of that and also that you can’t manufacture stars. You don’t know who people are going to like and why? We did a tournament in Chandigarh and girls were cheering for the guy who lost and that was because they liked him better.
They were even cheering for the referee. I felt like, I have to have that referee in my main PPL, I was getting it because people will watch who they want to watch. You can’t control that. So, you have to go with the flow and be aware of that and push the guys who the audience is liking more, it’s what the athlete does himself and he’s aware of it. Sometimes it just happens.
5. Talking about Pro Panja League encouraging women in taking up Panja as a sport, Ms Preeti Jhangiani said:
It’s the only platform which has male, female, and specially-abled on the same platform. So, it’s a big up for women athletes because they’re not in many other sports to get the same pay parity or the same stage or the same popularity.
In terms of social media numbers, one of our female athletes, Chetana has massive social media numbers and she’s been featured in almost every publication. We did a tournament with her at IIT Bombay.
We asked them to come with their top five guys, and if any of them can defeat our female athlete, then we will give them a cash price. None of them could put her down. She was featured in every publication because of that. We are giving a lot of coverage, and a lot of press to our female athletes, as well.
6. What’s the process of acquiring brands as sponsors for the first season of the Pro Panja League?
First of all, you have to see the target audience, and you have to see the kind of brands that will be attracted to this.
And there are a lot of brands we are talking to who are bigger in tier 2, and tier 3 cities, and we are understanding what kind of athletes participate and what kind of people like to see that sport right now. We’re talking about it because we have those insights from our social media. After the first season, we’ll have those insights from the broadcast, as well.
7. With just over 10 days left, how will you approach the inaugural edition on the business front?
See, the business end is about growing the sport. You have to remember, every sport needs support. And for us, it’s not a revenue game right now, it’s an eyeball game. The business part of it is going to come from the eyeballs. People are going to see the value from the eyeballs.
Right now our focus is on getting as many eyeballs as possible. This is why you see we’ve invested in promos as well, I don’t think any new sport has had promos like we’ve had.
We’re doing press calls, we need the media to put the word out there. It’s an eyeball game right now, it’s a TRP game, and it’s sports entertainment.
We hope that when everyone starts watching the competition, it’s gonna have a large word of mouth and we’re very, very confident of that. So it’s about finding your audience and having confidence in the sport, as well.
8. When asked about Sony Pictures Networks’ backing for Pro Panja League, Mr Dabas said:
It’s spectacular, they’re putting on our promos during the Ashes. I couldn’t ask for more. The only cricket being played right now with so much buzz and people are glued to it.
The kind of feedback we’ve gotten is amazing. Everybody’s been seeing the promos because it’s a cricket-crazy country. So why not ride off the back of cricket and let be seen? Everybody’s watching our promos and we’ve been getting great feedback from everywhere due to which there’s a big awareness.