Interview by Aditya AK published in Bar & Bench on September 8, 2015

Ekalavyas is a sports media and talent management enterprise which also runs www.ekalavyas.com, a website dedicated to Indian basketball news.

Started by three National Law University, Jodhpur graduates, Ekalavyas aims to improve the state of sports in India in a holistic manner, apart from giving it the media coverage it deserves.

In just two years, Ekalavyas has worked with an impressive list of clientele that includes the Basketball Federation of India, IMG-Reliance, NBA team Sacramento Kings, Maharashtra State Basketball Association and Universal Basketball Alliance of India (UBA), among others. Earlier this year, they were knowledge partners for a basketball documentary aired on Sony Six.

Part of the core team are freelance writer Gopalakrishnan R, Vishnu Ravi Shankar, an ex-Trilegal lawyer, and Aravind Mokkapati, an ex in-house counsel for Mahindra & Mahindra currently pursuing an LL.M. from Northwestern University, Chicago.

In this interview with Bar & Bench’s Aditya AK, Gopalakrishnan talks about his pursuing his passion, how legal knowledge helps, and more.

Jump ball – Early beginnings

“All three of us were really interested in sports, but when we reached law school, we found that we didn’t get too many opportunities to play. When we went for NLSIU Bangalore’s sports fest, Spiritus, we found that there was limited preparation; whereas when I used to play in school, we had to train for months.

“I get that playing sports isn’t priority in law school, but you’re still representing your university. If you go to colleges abroad, you find that they take sports very seriously and simultaneously, and their academic standard is very high.

Despite being so passionate about basketball, I realized that I didn’t know anything about the sport in India. There was just one basketball blog on the internet (‘Hoopistani’), by Karan Madhok, who used to write for ToI. At that time, while still in law school, I started writing about basketball. I sent my blog about how I lost to an 11-year-old! (laughs) to Divya Singh, a former Indian Basketball team captain. She liked it and got it published on Sportskeeda.”

Driving to the edge

Being law graduates who have taken a path less travelled (no basketball pun intended), each of them had to experience a journey to get to where they are today.

For Gopal, it was always about journalism. It just took him a while to figure out what type.

“While in law school, I had interned with Bar & Bench. After graduating in 2011, I joined LexisNexis as a commissioning editor. I thought it was the perfect job for me. I got to meet people like Arvind Datar, which was great.

I wanted to work on books that students would find easy to read. How many law school students actually read DD Basu for Constitutional Law? After a point, the work felt repetitive and not along the lines of what I wanted to do. From there, I joined Sportskeeda in a freelance capacity. Soon, I felt that basketball needed an exclusive online space.

I also applied for a position at the Basketball Federation of India, but that didn’t pan out. With no steady job at this point, I had no choice but to start the website. So I started covering tournaments, while Aravind was still working. While I did the writing work, he provided backend inputs, including paisa (laughs). Last year, Vishnu joined us, while still working for Trilegal in Delhi.”

And for Vishnu, playing a more proactive role meant having to quit his job at Trilegal.

He says,

“The financial incentives were great and I was happy working on corporate transactions and business laws. However, I wasn’t pleased with the hours and style of functioning.

I also noticed that the same lifestyle continues as you climb higher in the law firm food chain. I decided at that time that if I was going to put in so much effort, I might as well direct that towards something that I was truly passionate about and had more ownership over.

It was not an easy decision to switch, especially since I was in a good place in my law firm career. But I understood that there is never a right time and I took a leap of faith.”

Laying up a platform

“When India beat China in the World Championships last year, we were the only Indian media house to cover it on location. And because of all the traffic, our site crashed!

Our reporter had put up a photo of the Indian team in the locker room on Twitter. Celebrities like Farhan Akhtar and Amitabh Bachchan retweeted it. At this point, the mainstream media channels started picking up the news! We weren’t insistent on watermarks so, Firstpost used it without giving us credit, and other sites did the same.

Initially, we thought it was okay, because the sport was getting attention. But after one site put its own watermark on it, the IPR lawyers in us came out! Vishnu and I threatened them with copyright infringement suits and then they agreed to give us credit. So that kind of brought us to the fore.”

Double dribbling

As mentioned before, the trio have day jobs as well. Gopal is a freelance writer, Vishnu is an independent legal consultant and Aravind was, until recently, an in-house counsel. Having contributed to The CaravanHindu Business Line and Fountain Ink among others, Gopal describes life as a freelancer.

“Writing about a niche sport means you will not get noticed initially and face rejection. Publication avenues in print are limited due to space constraints. I supplement my basketball writing with writing in other areas.

Recently, I even wrote a research paper on sexuality and the internet! Also, any freelancer will admit to the occupational challenges of delayed, inadequate or non-payment of remuneration.”

Assisting the sport – more than just reporters

“We noticed that after news channels show concern for something today, they completely forget about it in a couple of days. For example, during the same tournament, there was a turban ban and Arnab Goswami outraged about it for an hour. He didn’t even mention that India beat China!

Being from a law background, we think it’s in us to try and change things around us. We thought we should address the underlying issues. Firstly, there are no places to play. The existing ones are not open to the public; for the ones which are open to public, the surface isn’t good enough. Secondly, there is a lack of good coaches. Thirdly, there is a lack of media coverage. We want to help out with these issues as opposed to just commenting on the NBA.

We have entered into a tie-up with a sports infrastructure company to identify and refurbish basketball courts across India. We are exploring collaborations with academies to facilitate better coaching in schools.

Our talent management department is currently being structured and will be actively involved in representing players and coaches soon and creating more opportunities for them. Without these tie ups and other divisions beyond media, we will have to depend on advertising or write about cricket!”

Equipped to handle violations

The trio admit that having a legal background most definitely comes in handy. Corporate lawyer Vishnu says,

“When you are running a business, you need to know commercial laws, how to go about commercial contracts and several other legal processes. We end up saving a lot of money that would have otherwise gone towards fees for legal advice!”

Team Ekalavyas
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