If we are to go by the Players Auction of Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) season five, we are in for a power-packed entertaining 13 weeks of pulsating Kabaddi action spread over 11 states represented by 12 franchises. Like previous seasons, the auction, which was conducted by master auctioneer Bob Hayton, proved to be a perfect curtain raiser with 227 players netting a total of Rs 46.99 Crores. World renowned auctioneer Hayton was pivotal in bringing in the record-breaking moolah and excitement at the bidding table.
The super salesman of Indian Sports, Hayton speaks about what makes the Auctions exciting, growth of PKL, his bow-ties and much more in an email interview to NewsX. Here are the excerpts:
1. Tell us about your experience at the recently concluded PKL’s players’ auction.
It had all the usual ingredients that typify Players Auctions in India – starting with last minute amendments to available players, set building & IT troubleshooting going on right up to the wire, making allowances for the usual bit of Indian Standard Time (IST), then a deep breath and headlong into the adrenalin-fueled selling process proper and above all, excitement.
2. What was the impact of Dynamic Pricing of certain players on the overall auctioning of players this year?
Quite simply, the handful of teams that had strategized not to elect a ‘retained’ player had in effect 10% extra to bid with. The most telling example of this was when Team UP outbid all-comers to acquire Nitin Tomar and very nearly made him the first Crorepati icon of PKL.
3. Now in its 5th Season, what is your take on growing popularity of Pro Kabaddi League?
I said to Charu Sharma, whose vision started the PKL revival those short few years ago, that the League was like a Ferrari accelerating from zero to warp factor 10 in no time. Kabaddi is an indigenous & widely played and appreciated Indian sport but it took the vision of Charu & the presentation skills and backing of Star Sports to drive it to where it is now – watched (and loved) by million, and now Vivo has invested in PKL. I can only see it grow and grow.
4. With four new teams coming in, how much difference did it make to the atmosphere and bidding wars during the auction this year?
The new teams made it the biggest League in terms of teams and geographic coverage. Naturally, this gave rise to more people in the Auction Hall but also more Players to pick from. As an Auctioneer that is a good thing, since with the teams in close proximity to each other they could look into each other’s eyes and second-guess each other’s strategies, whilst I did my bit to encourage bidders to outdo each other.
5. Which franchise, according to you, has got the best deal in building their best possible squad?
I love the Sport, indeed I love all sport and as such I can appreciate the different strategies but would never comment on such matters and simply wish them all well in PKL season 5.
6. Do you follow any rituals before the players’ auction for a Sports League?
Nothing superstitious – I research the CVs of the main players so I can have a ‘one liner’ or two about each up my sleeve to throw in when selling, plus I practice pronunciation of the players’ names (with varying degrees of success!). I also work out what I am going to wear – this time it was going to be a grey shiny suit with blue sparkly sequin bow-tie (I always wear a bow-tie) on Day one and a bright red velvet jacket & red tartan bow-tie for Day two. Dressed accordingly Judith & I approached the Auction Hall in our Day one attire only to be sent back by the TV’s Head of Content to change into Day two’s outfit which they had apparently been promoting in pre-auction social media! Well that’s a first for me!
7. Why do you think players’ auctions are generating so much excitement in Indian Sports Leagues?
I enjoy my life as an Auctioneer & getting paid to do something you enjoy is a bonus. The same can be applied to Players Auctions. For the players, it is the mixture of aspiration and money, getting paid for their sporting skills, that old ‘fame & fortune’ scenario. The Players Auctions encapsulate all of this and it is the fact that a young man from a farming village can be bought by a franchise for a life-changing sum and be rubbing shoulders with Bollywood and Sports icons is in itself box office. And I like to think I assist in this by adding my own brand of auctioneering ‘theatre & sparkle’!
8. Players’ loyalty with Franchise (fan connect) vs Big Money Bids – what, according to you, is the best practice for Sports Leagues organizers in the long run?
The PKL season 5 auction saw many teams buying back their fan favourites which is good for ‘fan connect’. The main thing for all Sporting leagues is to be sustainable i.e. set a purse budget limit that each franchise must work within. Half way through the very first Hockey India League (HIL) I conducted, a couple of the franchisees called a time-out and asked Dr Batra whether they could spend more than the agreed purse limited. Apparently, I was encouraging them to bid more than they should! This was declined and everyone finished the Auction within budget.
PKL is a good example, the agreed purse budget for the franchisees in PKL1 was kept affordable and low. As the League has flourished, the purse for each franchise has risen and the fact that the original 8 owners are still with the league shows that this is the way to go forward.
9. You have auctioned players from four different sports in India, which has been the most exciting one for you?
They are all my children and I love them all equally.
10. Your name has almost become indispensable from Indian Sports Leagues which conduct Player Auctions. What are your future plans in India?
My ambition, quite simply, is to continue to be the no 1 ‘go to’ International Auctioneer for Sports related Auctions in India. I am always happy to look at new proposals and give advice. As I say…’have gavel – will travel’.