Jerry Maguires Of India Go On The Prowl

Updated: Aug 31 2003, 05:30am hrs
Recently, when seven-year-old golfing prodigy Viraat Badhwar created history of sorts by becoming the youngest Indian sportsperson to be signed by a professional sports management agency, Globosport, a company promoted by tennis star Mahesh Bhupathi, it served as an indicator of how the business of professional managers handling sportspersons in India is prospering. Earlier a domain of cricketers alone, the lucrative industry is now looking beyond the willow wielders.

Player management has really caught on in the last few years. This industry is all about taking the additional load on from a player and helping him concentrate on what he is supposed to do in the first placeplay and perform, says Digraj Singh, senior vice-president, Tiger Sports Marketing Pvt. Ltd, a firm that concentrates on golfers exclusively, and includes Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa, Mukesh Kumar, Digvijay Singh and Ashok Kumar on its client list.

In India, Percept DMark has taken the lead in this field by taking on some of our leading cricketers and other sportsmen. This is in reality a nascent industry in India. There is a long way to go, but the sky is the limit, says Mr Singh.

Comment-ing on how this industry has evolved over the years, Sanjay Lal, CEO, Percept DMark, whose client list includes cricketing phenomena Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan, explains: Twenty years ago, in the days of Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar, there were barely any advertisements as cricket was still an evolving game and so was television. The mediums of communication and the recipients were also limited. Thus, the role of professional managers was also limited.

But things have changed now. The business of managers managing sports personalities (read cricketers) really took off after the 1993 Hero Cup. Then from 1996 onwards, the stakes went really high and with every World Cup, it increases by at least 10 times, says Mr Lal. Today, the business (sports personalities and other celebrities combined) is worth about Rs 80-100 crore (purely endorsements, including appearances), he reveals.

Neverthe-less, the market was restricted to only a few superstars. Says Latika Khaneja, director, Collage Sports Management, who handles cricketers such as Virender Sehwag, Dinesh Mongia and Sanjay Bangar: Forget about 20 years ago, just two years ago, only Sachin (Tendulkar) and (Rahul) Dravid had a market. We had to create a market for other youngsters (like Virender Sehwag, Mohd Kaif, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan) based on their on-field performance, she says.

Now the trend of having managers is no longer restricted to established players. Even upcoming cricketers such as Gautam Gambhir or promising golfer Ashok Kumar have been roped in by managers. Although cricketers remain the preferred choice, other sport personalities are also being roped in by these managers. Says Mr Lal, With other sports also gaining popularity, we now have hockey players such as Dhanraj Pillay, Jugraj Singh and Gagan Ajit Singh exclusively with us.

A tricky issue associated with this business is that of one professional manager handling multiple personalities of varying stature. Remember Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) who got fired from his job because his conscience started playing up But the managers play down the issue. Says Mr Lal, The players know their respective worth and hence the issue of lesser known players demanding more than their worth has never cropped up.

The image of the players being important, the managers spend a lot of time working on that. Says Mr Lal, There are instructions on how to maintain composure and behave in public, the kind of language used, etc. We do a number of grooming exercises with them to enhance their image.

Denying that managers take over the lives of the sportsmen, Ms Khaneja says, This is a relationship that works a lot on trust. We only advise them, ask them to be themselves.

Nevertheless, there are many strict dos and donts for the sportsmen. Someone who is endorsing Pepsi cannot go near Coke and someone who is endorsing Hero Honda cannot be seen near a TVS, quips Mr Lal. On the money part, says Mr Lal, The arrangement between managers and sports personalities can range anywhere around 15-20 per cent of the total contract value. Mr Singh also says the commission is up to 20 per cent of the amount that they procure for the player.

About the future of the industry, Ms Khaneja says, This is a performance driven industry, although it is still in a very evolutionary stage. As a number of quality performers emerge, it will not remain restricted to cricket, but will extend to other sports as well. We already have a potential gold medallist at the Athens Olympics in the form of shooter Abhinav Bindra.

Agrees Mr Lal, The business is still in the growth phase now, it will continue to grow for the next five years. By then, one can expect maturity in this business. There is competition already, which is good from the point of view of sportspersons. Just watch: If there are even two gold medallists in the Athens Olympics, there will be 10 managers running after a single sportsperson!

With inputs from Saikat Neogi