When David James’s Kerala Blasters kicked off Hero Indian Super League’s fifth season against Steve Coppell’s ATK in September, organisers were no doubt hoping to build on the success of the last season.
But this year, as well as playing against each other, ISL teams will also be facing new competition – the burgeoning Vivo Pro Kabaddi League.
For the first time, the kabaddi league’s season is overlapping with the ISL’s, when its first match was little over a week after soccer’s curtain-raiser.
Today’s data publication is part of a series of pieces of research which YouGov/SMG Insight is conducting into the Indian sports market. The insight will also take in data on India’s favourite teams and athletes.
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For once, this wasn’t a clash created by competing broadcasters – both sports are part-owned and broadcast by Star Sports. But whereas last year, the PKL wrapped up just as the ISL was beginning, this year rightsholders chose to delay the kabaddi season in order to avoid a clash with the Asian Games.
While the move may eventually prove to be a masterstroke by the broadcaster, it’s looking tough going for both properties so far.
As our chart below shows, audiences for both properties have fallen below expectations, perhaps as fans have lost track of the oh-so-important narrative of the leagues as they compete with each other for publicity.
Over its first 19 matches, ISL has seen a decline of almost a quarter but it is the longer-established PKL which has seen the greatest drop-off, with audience figures over its first 34 matches down 37% on last season.
In previous seasons for both properties, matches earlier in the competition have tended to have been hotly-anticipated, reaching high audience figures, so this early-season disappointment will be watched carefully by sponsors and rightsholders alike. Many Indian households, of course, still own a single TV meaning that unlike in previous editions of these competitions, families must sometimes make a straight choice between which sport they watch this time around.
But the decline in viewing figures can’t be solely explained by overlap in the seasons. The ISL’s inaugural Season 5 match took place before the PKL began and at a time when there was no major cricket taking place.
Common sense would suggest its audience would surpass the 7.5m who tuned in for last season’s opener. That it did not will mean that stakeholders will be keeping a watchful eye on both the data and the strategy in the next few weeks.