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Individual heroes do help gravitate the masses towards a sport, we’re hopeful of the same for volleyball – Kolkata Thunderbolts Management

In a tete-a-tete with Mr Pawan Patodia and Mr Sumedh Patodia, SportsMint Media learned about a few more insights into volleyball's stature in the evergrowing sports ecosystem of India.

The defending champions of the Prime Volleyball League (PVL), Kolkata Thunderbolts have been undertaking some prodigious initiatives for the upliftment of volleyball in Bengal.

CA Pawan Patodia, the Chairman & Co-owner of the reigning champions of PVL 2022, who is also a volleyball fanatic, is playing an instrumental role in the enhancement of the sport. Patodia has taken up the mission of reaching 3000 villages in West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand and Orissa to bring the game of volleyball to the masses. 

On the other hand, Sumedh Patodia, whose first project as the Team Director of Kolkata Thunderbolts was a grass-root outreach initiative where he aimed to activate the entire volleyball and local communities of West Bengal.

In a tete-a-tete with Mr Pawan Patodia and Mr Sumedh Patodia, SportsMint Media learned about a few more insights into volleyball’s stature in the evergrowing sports ecosystem of India.

1. How volleyball is gaining prominence in mainstream sports today? 

The first season of Prime Volleyball League garnered 133 million viewers across merely 24 matches – the big spark that was required in Volleyball. It saw the support of major brands such as Rupay, Eatfit, Cred, Byju’s, Apollo, Nippon Paint, A23, and others. Season 2 is going to be streamed internationally through Volley World, a CVC Capital-backed entity of FIVB (World Volleyball Federation).

Kolkata Thunderbolts, under the umbrella of Prime Volleyball League, is an earnest attempt to bring attention to a sport which has been neglected for decades in the country. Our vision is to have an entire infrastructure of leagues and tournaments in the next couple of years, which will promote players from the grass-roots all the way to the international level. The Thunderbolts Cup which had a representation from all 23 districts of West Bengal was a pilot in the same direction. We scouted one of the players from Thunderbolts Cup who is now going to represent Kolkata Thunderbolts at Prime Volleyball League Season 2.

Volleyball has always been a popular game, both in India and abroad; the third most popular team sport in the country as per statistics. The problem lay in volleyball not getting enough media attention because we are yet to perform well in global competitions like the Olympics. It’s a cycle, unless India performs well internationally in volleyball or in any other sport, masses and younger talent will not be attracted to the sport, which means the corporates will keep their wallets stashed away. This is the cycle that the government tries to break by investing in talent development in a major way, and honing the skills of our players.

Scientific methods of training, tournaments at the school, college and neighbourhood level, training boot camps across the year, brand endorsements, team anthem, OTT and social media content – Kolkata Thunderbolts is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to get volleyball the mainstream media attention that it deserves.

2. Growing sports industry and the emergence of Volleyball in India

India is the largest market in the world, for any brand, any sport, and any league – a natural occurrence when you house 20% of the world’s population.

Numerous indicators and markers point to the same direction – the growing Indian sports industry. The sales numbers of the sports goods manufacturing sector have seen tremendous uptake in the last 2 years after the pandemic, recording double-digit year-on-year growth numbers. Similarly, as per BARC, the total hours of sports broadcasted and the size of the audience consuming this content is also majorly rising. Volleyball is the second most popular team sport played in the world – if India wants to compete internationally across an array of sports, one of the first it will have to compete in is volleyball.

3. Mr Pawan Patodia’s view on sports entrepreneurship in India

It is at its optimum level of entry right now, with the entire nation paying more attention towards sports post the pandemic. The government has invested heavily in its Khelo India schemes, and all major global sports organizations and brands are on the cusp of entering the Indian market. I am convinced the next decade will see the sports industry in India flourish exponentially, and entrepreneurs who have the appetite and patience for risk-bearing and gestation will have a lot to gain.

4. How sporting leagues are contributing to the economy?

Up until 2 years ago, the only sport and format which received considerable viewership from the masses was cricket, but only during the IPL or intense international games. The entire landscape of the sports industry has now started to shift. With the onset of alternative sports leagues like Kabaddi, Football, Volleyball, Kho Kho and others, we are seeing an exponential rise in the sale of sports goods across the country other than cricket equipment. Students from less developed areas are enrolling in our training camps to help them get education opportunities. The infrastructural spending of the government is being supplemented by corporates on the lookout for marketing and customer engagement opportunities. The tourism sector is also benefitting from the rise of the sports leagues in India, conducting matches across the country. Government-owned entities which had become lethargic in recruiting for their sports teams are becoming active. Not to forget the remuneration players get for competing in regional, national and international tournaments. Overall, the economy has much to gain from this movement.

5. The scope for growth of other sports in a cricket-dominated country

India is in dire need of giving up on its inertia of cricket, a sport still not recognized in the Olympics. Had we not won the world cup in 1983 and again in 2011, I truly wonder if cricket would have risen to the prominence level it has.

However, the times are changing. We can see even individual sports like wrestling, athletics, archery, shooting and others, getting a lot of interest from all across the country. The gap lies in the resources available to the masses. Thus, I believe, resource-light sports, such as Volleyball and Kho Kho will be the forerunners of rising sports in India.

6. Sports industry – a viable business model?

We are a country of close to 1.4 billion people strong, with a median age of 28, making long strides in women’s empowerment, social equality, and equal opportunity. Sports have the highest degree of viewer attention, consumer loyalty and brand recall potential. I think the business model is as viable as it gets. “Khelega India tabhi toh Badhega India”.

7. Rural initiatives by the Kolkata Thunderbolts team and how they helped in the upliftment of rural communities?

* THUNDERBOLTS CUP

Two versions of the Thunderbolts Cup have been successfully conducted by Kolkata Thunderbolts previously, men and women.

Men’s Thunderbolts Cup Key Highlights:
– 48 Durga Puja Committees, 720 players and coaches activated across all 23 districts of West Bengal
– 85 matches of Volleyball played on 3 simultaneous courts on an astroturf across 5 days
– Tournament highly endorsed by all puja committees of West Bengal, local and state politicians, media and sports community
Each participating player is given a Kolkata Thunderbolts official jersey and merchandise
– 1 player scouted for Kolkata Thunderbolts who had previously not registered for Prime Volleyball League

Women’s Thunderbolts Cup Key Highlights:
– 8 teams, 120 players and coaches activated across various districts of West Bengal
– 1 day tournament conducted in an indoor stadium (Eastern Railways) with the participation of national and state-level players
– Each participating player is given Kolkata Thunderbolts official jerseys and merchandise
– 4 female players scouted for PSU team try-outs and job opportunities, 1st one joined Eastern Railways on the 1st of December 2022.

*THUNDERBOLTS VOLLEYBALL TRAINING CAMP

The pilot project was conducted in Purulia, West Bengal, in November 2022 to test the public feedback on a moving boot camp concept. The objective of the camp is to reach out to the masses outside of metropolitan Kolkata and enable them by conducting Volleyball coaching camps.

Key Highlights:
– 5-day camp conducted by an internationally certified coach who has previously trained the Indian National Team
– Enrolment of 40 students in the camp, each of them given a certification of having completed the first module out of a 5-module program
– Daily footfall of approximately 150 people at the venue of the training camp due to local hype and excitement around Kolkata Thunderbolts
– Each participating student is given a Kolkata Thunderbolts official jersey and merchandise
– Local social organizations, volleyball clubs and bodies collaborate to ensure local activation and success of the camp
– First ever player from Purulia district to qualify for the West Bengal National Men’s Team scouted at Thunderbolts training camp
– The next camp is scheduled from the 13th – 17th of December 2022 in Kalimpong, with the third camp being scheduled from the 19th – 23rd of December 2022 in the Hooghly District near Kolkata. The target is to have conducted a camp in 16 districts by March 2023 with an average enrolment of 40 students at every camp.

8. With cricket acquiring a lion’s share in the sports marketing industry where does volleyball stands in that sector?

93% of all marketing spends in the entire sports industry are in cricket, more than even a lion’s fair share. It’s a cycle, we perform well internationally – viewership of the sport increases – brands pour in money – the sport develops and we perform well internationally. I believe that is what Kolkata Thunderbolts is trying to achieve, jumpstart the cycle.

9. What will be the key factor for Rupay Prime Volleyball League to be commercially successful in the long run?

The way PVL is set up, the sheer structure of ownership lying with the franchise owners as the league owners, is destined for success. The league recorded very minimal losses in the first year, hoping to reduce it even further this year, and by year 3 we should be commercially profitable. I wish we telecasted one of the board meetings because every task is done on a “who can get it done best at the cheapest price” basis to optimize every decision.

10. Do you think a volleyball player widely popular among the masses and brands will grab more eyeballs towards the sport?

Most of our guys are starting to get extremely popular on social media and on the ground as well. A televised league such as ours has filled the void of glamour and spotlight that volleyball was facing in the shadows of cricket in India. Individual heroes do help gravitate the masses towards a sport or a field, I am hopeful of the same for volleyball.

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