l Sprint runner Hima Das is the latest sports star who is a brand’s alternative to over-exposed cricketers
By Venkata Susmita Biswas
Sprint runner Hima Das’ winning streak over the last month has captured the imagination of Indians, sending her brand value soaring high overnight. Das, who is associated with four brands, has almost doubled her endorsement fee from Rs 30-35 lakh per year to Rs 60-65 lakh per year. She currently endorses Adidas, State Bank of India’s YONO app, Edelweiss Group and Star Cement.
Das and other non-cricket athletes like her are not always the favourites of mass brands. As per a study by ESP Properties, 81% of all endorsements went to cricketers in 2018 — around 86 brands associated with non-cricket athletes, whereas a whopping 133 brands roped in cricketers. What’s more, 66% of all brand endorsements featured cricketers Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni.
What makes brand endorsements harder for non-cricket athletes is that they have a very narrow window to prove their mettle and command high fees. “Unlike cricket, world-class athletic events are few, have niche viewership in India and are not in the media eye very often,” says Neerav Tomar, CEO and MD, IOS Sports and Entertainment — the company that manages Hima Das’ brand associations.
Even though Das may have bagged five gold medals over 20 days, her true test will be at the World Athletics Championships in Doha later this year and eventually in Tokyo at the 2020 Olympics. “Brands that are associating with Hima are doing so in anticipation of her winning medals at upcoming sporting events,” Tomar points out.
This is why Das’ association with brands covers the Olympics season and ends in December 2020. “Brands want to be able to leverage the success of the player during the course of the athletic event and for a few months after the event ends,” says Rahul Trehan, VP, IOS sports and entertainment. While cricketers have a more iconic status among Indian consumers and brands, historically, non-cricket athletes have, at the peak of their career, been picked by advertisers as brand ambassadors. Chess champion Viswanathan Anand has been NIIT’s brand ambassador since 2000 when he won the FIDE World Chess Championship. Tennis player Sania Mirza who peaked at world No 27 in 2007 was the face of Bournvita Li’l Champs and Hyundai Getz, whereas professional shooter Abhinav Bindra, who got India its first individual Olympic gold in 2008, endorsed Samsung immediately thereafter.
At the peak of their game, non-cricket stars can command higher fees and in some cases, even match those of cricketers. Typically, non-cricket athletes tend to be cost-effective and charge between Rs 30 lakh and Rs 50 lakh per year for endorsements, as opposed to a per day rate of Rs 6 crore charged by a Virat Kohli. “Price-sensitive marketers have begun to see these stars as viable and inexpensive endorsers in comparison to over-exposed cricketers,” says Dheeraj Sinha, MD — India and chief strategy officer — south Asia, at Leo Burnett.
Non-cricket athletes, though, don’t have a universal appeal. “Most often the kind of brands that approach us for non-cricket athletes belong to the health and fitness category. Ever since Hima’s five medal winning streak, we are seeing interest from categories like fitness watches, engine oils, two-wheelers, energy drinks, etc,” says Trehan. But there are exceptions. Six-time boxing World Champion Mary Kom endorses brands like Nestlé’s dairy whitener Everyday, Puma and BSNL. Vineet Singh, director — dairy, Nestlé India, says as a marketer he seeks inspirational ambassadors, independent of the sport.