Deployed around ₹100 cr in two seasons of Ultimate Kho Kho League, says CEO

New Delhi: Ultimate Kho Kho (UKK), the franchise-format league backed by Dabur’s Amit Burman and the Kho Kho Federation of India, has invested close to 100 crore between the first and second seasons, Tenzing Niyogi, CEO of the league told Mint

The league is now gearing up for its second season, scheduled to commence this December in Odisha.

Last week, Kho Kho Sports League Private Limited, the company behind UKK, successfully concluded a Series A funding round, raising an undisclosed amount from FinNest Sport, a UK-based entity owned by Biswanath Patnaik’s BNP Venture Capital Limited. This marks the first time any sports league in India has secured private equity funding. Additionally, the league’s franchisees have subsequently invested 3.9 crore in its player pool, comprising athletes from 18 states.

The groundwork for building the sports business was laid in 2018. Burman had committed and underwritten an investment of 200 crore to be deployed over a five-year period, with the aim of developing the sport’s grassroots, marketing, and television production.

“The incoming private equity funds will help us enhance our valuation and assist us in reimagining the game at the global level. This sport is played by 33 nations, and that’s where the opportunity lies. Our spending on building up the league is only going to increase due to the nature of production,” Niyogi said. Keeping both these investments in mind, Niyogi anticipates profitability to materialize within the fourth year of operations.

The inaugural season of the game featured six teams competing at the Badminton Hall within the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune. According to BARC data shared by the league, the majority of TV viewers (approximately 19%) belonged to the 2-14 age group. The second-highest viewership segment was the 15-21-year-olds, accounting for 17% of the total viewership. During its first season, the game garnered a cumulative viewership of 35 million on television and an additional six million on video streaming platforms across India.

“Many of our counterparts who run non-cricketing leagues in the US are surprised to learn that there is a league that has achieved 165 million in terms of viewership, including that on social media. These are unheard-of numbers for a first time league of a non-cricketing sport,” he added.

This year, the league aims to double its viewership. “We did not expect such a strong response from tier-one cities. However, markets like Karnataka, Kolkata, Pune, Mumbai, Telangana, and Delhi surprised us,” Niyogi stated. The company observed the highest viewer retention from Hindi-speaking markets. UKK Season One had an equal rural-urban split, with 59% of its viewers being male and the remaining 41% female.

But a few months ago, as per media reports, the league had faced some resistance from its franchises. Niyogi clarified that these issues have been addressed. A franchise review call was conducted, and assurances were provided regarding sponsorships and an action plan for the second season. “They (the franchises) wanted some financial comfort and wanted to know if we were following the same financial model. The issue was also regarding a clear window to conduct the upcoming season, which has also now been addressed after we secured final dates and a clear window of dates from our broadcaster,” he said.

Sponsorships are pooled centrally. The sport is played in a one-hour format with shorter games. It features six teams, spans over three weeks, and comprises approximately 30 matches. The league could add up to six more teams over time. Currently, state and corporate entities, including Odisha Sports Development and Promotion Company, GMR Sports, Adani Sportsline, Capri Global, Punit Balan Group, and KLO Sports, own franchises in the league.

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Updated: 29 Nov 2023, 12:53 PM IST

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