By Christina Moniz and Alokananda Chakraborty
Mithali Raj, who called time on her 23-year cricketing career on Wednesday, had a big hand in the growing prominence of women sportspersons in the country. In the process, she was among the handful of sportswomen sought out by brands to be their endorser.
Among the brands she promoted during her career are Australian wine brand Jacob’s Creek, New Zealand-based batmaker Laver and Wood, cosmetics brand L’Oreal, American Tourister, and, more recently, Association of Mutual Funds in India (Amfi).
Experts say Raj’s brand value may go down a few notches after her retirement as it happens with most retired sportspersons, but there are ways she can keep it going as her persona represents consistency, dependability, versatility, among some other attributes.
Rahul Trehan, chief operating officer, IOS Sports & Entertainment, says, “Upon retirement, the endorsement value of any sportsperson goes down — irrespective of the gender or sport. Our estimate is, it erodes by 25-30% and that’s going to happen with Raj too. That said, she is a legend and has tremendous recall in the country and even internationally. On the other hand, we have up and coming women cricketers like Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur who are in great demand these days.” So, the estimate is, if Raj takes home `50 lakh per endorsement currently, it would be in the range of `30-35 lakh post retirement.
In any case, at an estimated `50 lakh per endorsement, Raj’s fees have been significantly lower than many other women sporting legends, not to mention her male counterparts. Former Indian skipper of the men’s team, Virat Kohli, for instance, rakes in a cool `8-10 crore per deal.
Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, notes that Raj has not really been given her due in the field of endorsement despite her outstanding cricketing achievements. “For a long time, especially during most of Raj’s career, women’s cricket just didn’t get enough TV viewership or spectator eyeballs. She may have signed a few endorsement deals during her career, but the fact that most of them are not top of mind just goes to show that she didn’t get enough visibility,” says Sinha.
He says that today when one thinks of women sports stars in the country, the more visible names are PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza and Mary Kom. “The irony is that this is the sunset of Raj’s career but she is not in the league of some of these more celebrated sportswomen,” Sinha points out.
On the brand endorsement field, Sindhu commands as much as `1.50 crore per deal, while Mirza would probably be in the `80 lakh per deal. The current crop of women cricketers is also finding their place in the sun. That would augur well for Raj, who can add value to brands in sectors such as insurance and banking, health and fitness, given that she is almost synonymous with values such as consistency and dependability.
Hariharan Subramanian, co-founder and director, Nyka Experience, points out that she would also be an ideal fit for brands that talk about aspiration, inclusion and being a go-getter. Raj has a good social media presence which will find synergy among brands trying to appeal to new-age consumers. She is also a great public speaker, notes Subramanian, which can be a big draw among organisations trying to address women’s issues and appear inclusive.
Professor Sajith Narayanan, associate dean of School of Communication at Flame University, agrees that while Raj might be less visible on the field due to her retirement, thanks to her presence on social media, she would continue to enjoy sustained engagement with her followers and fans. And that’s a plus.“She could easily command `10-15 lakh per appearance at events to motivate women in an organisation, and perhaps another `2-3 lakh if she were to use her social media presence for the brand,” an industry hand estimates.
While it is natural for the endorsement value of a retired athlete to diminish, a lot will depend on what Raj does next. Sinha says that if she chooses to pursue a role in cricket commentary or coaching, she will continue to have visibility, and therefore brands might still want to associate with her, much like they do with retired male stars such as Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev.