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‘I love sports... and I’m learning the business part’

N Madhavan Chennai | Updated on October 22, 2018

 

It is hard to describe him just as an actor any more. Abhishek Bachchan is today actively involved in sports as an entrepreneur. He first bought Pro-Kabaddi League team Jaipur Pink Panthers. He also co-owns (with Vita Dani and MS Dhoni) Chennaiyin Football Club, the most successful franchise of the Indian Soccer League having won the title in two of the four seasons so far. Speaking to BusinessLine, Abhishek explains why he chose to invest in two non-cricket sport, the transformation the two leagues are bringing about to kabaddi and football in India, and his differentiated approach to business. Excerpts:

How is the business of non-cricket sport in India?

The environment in the market and among the people is prime right now. That is the best start you can have. You are not up against a system or an audience that does not want to see you. There are always slight hiccups along the way, and that is life.

India is a cricket- crazy country. What made you choose kabaddi and football?

It is changing now. I was a sportsman in school and college. When I came back and began acting, I remained a big sports fan. Also, I always wanted to get involved in an Indian sport in some way. I love cricket. But I realised that in cricket we are one of the best. For me it was: Can I be involved in a sport that I can make a difference to? Hence kabaddi, and then football.

Are you happy with your decision?

I think, on a professional front after the decision to become an actor, this is my next best decision. I just love being associated with sports. I am not talking about the business part of it. Being involved in it gives me a lot of happiness.

And the business part of it...

The business part is a learning curve. The kind of person I am, I like to jump into the deep end with both feet first and learn along the way. The learnings have been immense in the last four years. Kabaddi is a more profitable venture for me and has been so for the last three years. Football is a more expensive sport but we are definitely doing better than expected.

Are they (football and kabaddi) gaining traction?

Absolutely. Pro-Kabaddi League is the second-most watched sporting league in India after IPL. It is growing exponentially year-by-year as per television rating. As regards football, can you imagine in season one when everybody thought the sport will not work in India, and ISL became the fourth highest-attended football league in the world. That says something. ISL does not have the best players in the world like the clubs in Europe or South America, despite that you are the fourth most-attended football league. It is a statistic people find shocking and hard to believe.

Despite the strong growth, Sachin Tendulkar chose to exit the Kochi football team. What is your say?

I think it was a business decision. He is Sachin and we respect everything he does (laughs).

Like IPL do you see ISL and PKL creating world-class players for India?

We already have one. Pardeep Narwal. He plays for Patna Pirates in the Pro-Kabaddi League. He has been integral to their winning three titles, back-to-back. Today, he is representing India. I like to believe that it is PKL that has thrown him up. Similarly, Indian footballers are getting exposed to the best talent and coaching available. Recent performance of the Under-16 team is a testimony to this and so is the FIFA ranking of the Indian senior team which has improved to the 90s from 150 levels four years ago.

Which is the best way to describe you — an actor or an entrepreneur?

Actor and sport fan. To run a business you have to love what you do. I love going to the movies, and that is possibly the biggest contribution to my becoming an actor. I am a huge kabaddi and football fan and that is the reason for me to get involved in the sport.

Being just a fan may not help you to run a business effectively...

It does. It means something to me. It is not just business. Not just a spreadsheet. If I am passionate and love the team I own, I will find a way to make it successful and turn profitable because it is important. I will not walk away from it.

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Published on October 04, 2018
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