Pro Volleyball League: With no Bollywood stars and actors as owners, league to let sport and players be the 'heroes'

Amit Kamath
When Pro Volleyball League, the newest entrant among sporting leagues, had its first press conference on Monday, the almost formulaic presence of cricket stars and Bollywood starlets was missing. In PVL, the sport will be the hero.

The Indian Super League has John Abraham, Ranbir Kapoor, MS Dhoni, Sourav Ganguly and Virat Kohli. The Pro Kabaddi League has Abhishek Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar. The Indian Premier League has Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta, not to mention Shilpa Shetty for many years.

The Pro Badminton League also has Tendulkar, besides Taapsee Pannu. Even the Hockey India League had Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Over the years, as leagues have mushroomed across sports in India, most have benefited from the presence of Bollywood stars and cricketers in the owners boxes.

Yet, when Pro Volleyball, the newest entrant among sporting leagues, had its first press conference on Monday, the almost formulaic stardust from cricket stars and Bollywood starlets was missing.

"To be honest with you, we looked at the prospect of having celebrity owners," reveals Joy Bhattacharjya, who is the CEO of the league. "We did get offers (from celebs.) But it didn't make economic sense to us to give someone a discount (in franchise fee) because you are a film star.  That's when we said that we needed to get owners who are simply passionate about building the sport. At the end of the day, if someone wants to see an actor, they can go see his film.

"One of things we realised from tournaments like the FIFA U-17 World Cup is that the real hero is the football. So our thought was 'Can we make volleyball the hero?'" says Bhattacharjya, who was the Project Director of the Local Organising Committee for last year's U-17 World Cup.

"At some level we realise that there isn't as much of a difference between international volleyball and Indian volleyball as there is between international and Indian football. So if we could make the sport big, the rest will follow," he says, before adding, "It may work, it may not work."

The six-team league will see many owners making their first forays into sports franchise ownership at such a level. Ahmedabad Defenders will be owned by Bonhomie Sports Event Management Limited, the Calicut Heroes will be owned by Beacon Sports, the Hyderabad Black Hawks will be owned by Agile Securities Private Limited and the Kochi Blue Spikers will be owned owned by Thomas Muthoot. Chennai Spartans Private Limited will own a team by the same name: Chennai Spartans while U Mumba Volley will be owned by U Sports, which also owns popular PKL franchise, U Mumba.

The matches of the first edition will be held in only Kochi and Chennai.

With the teams not having celebrities as owners or their face, are Sony Pictures Network (SPN), the broadcasters for the league, concerned with the lack of marketable "assets"?

Prasanna Krishnan, Head (Sports Content) at SPN, dismisses such talk saying, "You can do a little bit of marketing using all of those ingredients (Bollywood celebs and former cricketers). Bollywood and cricketers can bring attention to the league and help as a marketing exercise, but finally when you're watching a two-hour product, you're watching the product. You're watching the sportsman and the sport. If that is bad, no amount of Bollywood or cricket stars can bail you out."

He adds, "Success of the league is dependent on having the best talent available. All the glitz, glamour and the marketing in the world cannot substitute for that fact! It looks likely that we will get the best players available. It's not an ultra-competitive market like football where we cannot have the best available talent.

Tweaks in league

Instead of having superstars on the sidelines to attract eyeballs, the league will use other ways to create interest, including tweaks to rules.

Bhattacharjya said that the league will have a Super Point, which will count for two points.

"We don't want to change the purity of the sport. But there will be things like Super Points, where a coach can say before-hand that the point will count for two points. One of the most important things in any sport is anticipation. When fans know the stakes have been raised for a particular point €" or for a free-hit in T20 cricket €" it adds to the thrill."

He added that the reason behind having two out of the six teams from Kerala was to have a derby match, which would pique interest in a state already fanatical about the sport.

Of course, with the league still just over two months away, there's still time for a Bollywood star to make a late cameo appearance.

Also See: India's FIFA U-17 World Cup player Komal Thatal called up for senior national camp ahead of Jordan friendly

Australia's World Cup squad to miss final stages of IPL 2019 after being asked to prioritise national duty

Bollywood choreographer arrested by Mumbai police for involvement in alleged prostitution racket overseas

Read more on Sports by Firstpost.