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The Unusual Trend of Celebrity Influence in Sports in India

*Ryan James



A couple of things that all Indians truly love are Sports and Celebrities—firstly, talking about celebrities. Almost all Indians adore their celebrities; I know that everyone has a craze towards them in every country, but in India, its levels above. Just look at South India, for example; people are willing even to give up their lives for Rajinikanth. At the same time, we Indians love our sporting culture. Although most of it is cricket, we are developing.


This article is not claiming that celebrities have a clear cut influence in Sports, but they for sure have, if not a significant impact, a minimal impact for sure. If you notice a trend, a league and a particular team when endorsed by a celebrity or when it has a celebrity involvement, it seems to do better than the ones that do not have celebrities involved. Here are some examples of how celebrities have influenced various sports. Shah Rukh Khan, that’s probably one of the biggest names in India. When Shah Rukh Khan took over the reins of Kolkata Knight Riders, he not only got supporters from Kolkata, but a large chunk of his fans started to support Kolkata as well. A similar aspect applied to Preity Zinta, Shilpa Shetty and so on.


Similarly, when Sachin Tendulkar was the owner of Kerala Blasters, the franchise received a lot of support from Sachin fans apart from locals of Kerala. Virat Kohli and Varun Dhawan fans supported FC Goa; Ranbir Kapoor and John Abraham's fans rooted for Mumbai City and North East United irrespectively. Even in the Pro Kabbadi League, Abhishek and Amitabh Bacchan owned the Jaipur Pink Panthers, which helped the League get the right recognition.


So from the above examples, we can draw it out that whenever a celebrity is involved, the leagues often tend to do well—now moving onto other Leagues. Basketball is a sport prevalent in India for a long time. It is arguably one of the sports in almost every college in India, but India still does not have a league for Basketball. There was one, the UBA Pro Basketball Alliance, which ran from 2015 to 2017. The league got a little recognition from the basketball enthusiasts, but it failed to catch the popularity and fame like others. There were no star celebrities involved with the same, and hence the overall exposure was not great. Similarly, India's first Pro Boxing League, The Super Boxing league, failed to achieve its goals. It was simply not able to get a similar response like other contact sports like Kabaddi and Indian Wrestling League. Even India’s national sport, Hockey and its Hockey, India League was a little popular, but it did not become an attractive star league.


It really does seem like celebrities do have an impact. Leagues like Kabaddi, where players earned about a lakh for a season, went on to earn in the ranges of 60lakh to 1 crore. Even the ISL and IPL grew drastically. But the leagues with no celebrity influence did not climb up the ladder and eventually just fell off the radar. Although Sports is not an aspect that requires celebrities, it has its own dignity; however, in a country like India, where people with celebrity statuses are glorified, Celebrities can positively impact Sports Leagues. It is visible, even when Alia Bhatt wore the Mumbai City Jersey or when Anushka Sharma got married to Virat Kohli, they got a lot of their fans to Support Mumbai football and Bangalore Cricket franchises irrespectively. Therefore hoping that other prominent sports grow in India and Celebrities can continue their positive contribution.


*Ryan is an Associate Editor at Global Sports Policy Review and a law scholar from School of Law, Christ University.


(The image used here is for representational purposes only)