Brand Sindhu

Net worth: Sindhu now commands ₹1-1.25 crore a day in endorsements compared to Kohli’s ₹2 crore a day. Photo: Sandeep Saxena   -  The Hindu

Net worth: Sindhu now commands ₹1-1.25 crore a day in endorsements compared to Kohli’s ₹2 crore a day. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

Net worth: Sindhu now commands ₹1-1.25 crore a day in endorsements compared to Kohli’s ₹2 crore a day. Photo: Sandeep Saxena   -  The Hindu

What does PV Sindhu’s status as the second-biggest brand endorser among Indian athletes mean for sports stars beyond cricket?

Remember the television commercials that had your favourite cricket icons rubbing shoulders with Bollywood stars for cola brands? The landscape of brand endorsements has been dominated by celebrities from these two ‘pillars’ of society, with the exception of the ‘Indian Express’ — Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi — in their heyday, and a few other extraordinary sporting icons who made a case for themselves in the world of big money endorsements. The renewed focus on other sports and the breakout success of athletes in the Olympics, have had major brands making a beeline to sign up sports celebrities other than cricketers, and badminton star PV Sindhu is leading the way.

Newspapers were recently awash with reports of Sindhu becoming the second-most sought-after Indian athlete in terms of brand endorsements. The only sportsperson ahead of her is the Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli. That Sindhu — who has reportedly signed a ₹50-crore endorsement deal with multiple companies — has eclipsed stars such as MS Dhoni and Sania Mirza, was a breath of fresh air for sports in the country that had only two Olympic medals to show for in Rio. After all, this is the biggest-ever deal signed by a non-cricketer in India, and she now commands ₹1-1.25 crore a day in endorsements compared to Kohli’s ₹2 crore a day. Before her silver medal-winning exploits, Sindhu was reportedly making ₹15-20 lakh a day.

Creating brands out of sports stars isn’t just down to the athletes’ success though. While athlete Sindhu has worked tirelessly to break into the top five of the Badminton World Federation rankings, so has the agency that manages her — Baseline Ventures Ltd— in securing for her brands such as PepsiCo (Gatorade sports drink —she refuses to endorse cola brands), Reckitt Benckiser (Moov pain reliever), Yonex, Myntra, Bank of Baroda, Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill among many others. “We are looking at creating long-term equity for her with brands and are ensuring that her playing time is not impacted by endorsements,” Tuhin Mishra, MD and co-founder of Baseline Ventures had told The Economic Times (ET).

While Sindhu basks in her star turn, athletes such as Sakshi Malik, who won a bronze in wrestling in Rio, and Dipa Karmakar, who performed admirably in women’s gymnastics, haven’t had the same kind of brand exposure. Harish Bijoor, brand expert and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., puts it down not only to the marketability of the athlete, but also the popularity of the sport the athlete represents.

“A sportsperson’s appeal is all about how often you get to see them performing,” Bijoor told BL ink. “You possibly see a Virat Kohli at the pinnacle of his game every 10 days and Sindhu, maybe, every eight months. To that extent all of this is an eyeballs game.” Given the current popularity of badminton in India, it is perhaps the reason why Malik and Karmakar are not getting similar endorsements — their sporting disciplines aren’t televised outside the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games.

Bunty Sajdeh, CEO and founder of Cornerstone Sports, which manages Kohli among other star cricketers, explained the marketability of Kohli in a report in ET. “Virat is a big brand name because he excels on-field — he also has a great persona off-field, being outspoken, wearing fashionable clothes, wears his heart on the sleeve; that’s how good athletes become great brands,” Sajdeh was quoted saying.

Sachin Tendulkar was perhaps the first sports celebrity in India, having set the standard for brand endorsements way back in the 1990s thanks to his agent, the late Mark Mascarenhas. A multitude of celebrity and sports management companies have since come up, and they ensure the constant presence of sportspersons they manage across TV screens and giant hoardings. Sajdeh is often called ‘Jerry McGuire’ in the landscape of Indian sports agents, especially after he orchestrated a 100-crore deal for the Indian cricket captain with leading sportswear-brand Puma.

“The price of a brand endorser is about the last big achievement, the medal status, solo or team achievement, the larger appeal and buy-in of the sport at large, and of course off-ground chemistry and physical appeal as well,” Bijoor says. “I do believe Sindhu is a valuable brand endorsement property. She has a medal at the last Olympics and has developed brand presence over the year ever since.” In the past five months alone, Sindhu has signed on with brands to the tune of ₹30 crore.

Bijoor, however, warns that a lot of the numbers being floated in the media should be taken with a “shovel of salt”. “At times numbers are floated to create a price-image too,” Bijoor says. “We need to be wary about that. Kohli could be charging this rate every alternate week, and Sindhu may have charged this for one endorsement. What is important and real is the regular, sustainable part of the rate card,” he adds.

Creative Spot, a marketing and advertising agency in the US, had attempted to explain why a boxing superstar such as Floyd Mayweather Junior didn’t have too many brand endorsements: “People don’t like him”. Mishra’s assessment that, “even after achieving stupendous success, her humility and the value she brings to women power is remarkable” indicates that Brand Sindhu is here to stay, especially since she is only 22. After smashing stereotypes away from the court, Sindhu is breaking brand endorsement boundaries and throwing it open for sportspersons outside of cricket.

Tanmoy Mookherjee is a Delhi-based sports writer

Published on May 05, 2017

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