March 4, 2015 / 8:19 PM / 2 years ago

Hunger for TV sports programing leads to India's Kabaddi

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Competition is fierce and price tags are huge for big-time sports that drive television ratings, sending executives to lesser known prizes -- like the ancient Indian sport of Kabaddi.

Eric Shanks, president of Fox Sports, a rights holder to National Football League games and for U.S. broadcast of the men's and women's World Cup tournaments and major golf among other properties, said the hunt for programing never ends.

"There is a lot of desire on media companies' parts to get further upstream," Shanks told the Sport Business Summit in New York on Wednesday.

"We had a global sports meeting and everybody was supposed to introduce what new properties can we bring to market.

"We found this ancient Indian sport called Kabaddi, it's really Red Rover, that's all it is," he said, likening it to a game played in U.S. schoolyards. "You're trying to break through (a line) and hold your breath for some reason."

Shanks said STAR India, which is owned by STAR TV and Fox International Channels, immediately went back and last year formed a pro Kabaddi league in eight cities for a game that is a cross between tag and wrestling.

"When they called, we said, 'how did you do?'

Told they did a 4.2 rating, Shanks said his reaction was, "Oh, well that's nice. How many people is that?

"'420 million', they replied, according to Shanks. "Not bad, not bad."

Kabaddi, in which India has won all six Asian Games golds in the sport, has long been popular in rural areas of the world's second most populous nation but it turned out to be a natural for the TV screen.

"It's tailor-made for television," Charu Sharma, a well-known television commentator in India and one of the driving forces in the league, told Reuters when the league was launched.

"Played by extremely athletic sports persons in a small indoor arena, under the lights, on a coloured mat ... it's a spectacular one-hour of good television."

Editing by Frank Pingue

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