After becoming the Indian cricket team captain, endorser of 17 brands and a savvy investor/entrepreneur, the valuation of brand Virat Kohli is expected to get a further boost with his recent double century knocks.
After becoming the Indian cricket team captain, endorser of 17 brands and a savvy investor/entrepreneur, the valuation of brand Virat Kohli is expected to get a further boost with his recent double century knocks. The 28-year-old cricketer is clearly the man of the moment. From being hailed as the best batsman not only by his own teammates but also his rivals, to being a youth icon and philanthropist, Kohli has immense responsibilities on his shoulders. A solid game-winning streak, a dollop of style and a dash of aggression, and you have the perfect recipe in Kohli that has brands queuing up his front door with endorsement contracts.
After captaining the famous victory in the 2008 U-19 World Cup, Kohli has seen an upward trend not only in his cricketing career but brand value too. It was in 2014 when Kohli set the endorsement world abuzz with the R10 crore per annum deal with German sports goods giant Adidas.
In 2014, SportsPro rated him as the second most marketable athlete in the world behind only Lewis Hamilton, placing him above the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Usain Bolt.
It all began with Titan’s Fastrack in 2010. “The first campaign Virat ever did was for Fastrack with (actor) Genelia D’Souza, who back then was the celebrity in the ad film. We needed a platform to showcase Virat and this was a superb fit at the time,” recalls Bunty Sajdeh of Cornerstone Sport and Entertainment which manages Kohli’s brand portfolio.
After two years, Cornerstone decided not to extend the association as the campaign had “run its course”.
The deal made then was that of a mere R25 lakh. Today, Kohli charges a whopping R4 crore per day. Stating Kohli’s brand valuation at R10 crore per year per deal currently, Atul Srivastava, managing partner, Games Unlimited believes that unlike Sachin Tendulkar or MS Dhoni, the career graph of Kohli is moving upwards at a tremendous speed. “He is a complete package wherein boys want to be like him and girls love him too. Brands would love to have him as an ambassador as he moves beyond the cricket arena,” he says. And now, with Kohli signing a eight-year deal with Puma for Rs 110 crore, he has become the first Indian sportsperson to sign a Rs 100-crore endorsement deal with a single brand.
Playing to his strengths
Unlike Bollywood stars, sports personalities have a shorter shelf life when it comes to endorsements. For instance, after MS Dhoni gave up his captaincy, advertisers followed suit as well. Last year, PepsiCo, after 11 years of association with him, discontinued the deal to opt for Kohli.
Like most endorsers, in the beginning it was about the big bucks but as Kohli’s career graph grows, he has become selective about which brands he wants to associate his name with. “Virat doesn’t plan to play beyond the age of 35-37 and he wants to leave a legacy behind. So, the brands which he thinks match his personality or he will use, are the ones he opts for now,” says Sajdeh. According to industry sources, Tata Motors had approached Kohli but the cricketer chose to endorse Audi over it, even though it offered him lesser money, as the luxury automobile brand “suited” him more. “A lot of his traits — fearlessness, hunger, passion and ambition are reflected in his brand choices,” points out Vinit Karnik, business head, ESP Properties.
Now consider Royal Challenge Sports Drink, which launched the Agar Bold Nahi Khelenge, Toh Kabhi Na Jaan Paayenge campaign in 2016 with Kohli. Its target audience comprises millennials who believe that life does not have a set template. “Virat embodies this spirit, making every choice in his life boldly without being defined by boundaries which others create,” says Subroto Geed, SVP — marketing at United Spirits. “Through him we are able to inspire our audiences to let go of their fears, follow their instincts and make their own choices.” The company has worked with Kohli on multiple campaigns over the last two years.
In the past few years, the cricketer has been approached by numerous categories such as undergarments, fans and even pan masalas, but he has refused to lend his name to these. He didn’t even renew his contract with Fair & Lovely Men as he cannot resonate with it now.
Similarly, once the face of Nestlé India’s Munch, the cricketer has now been replaced by Shruti Haasan and musicians Shankar Ehsaan Loy. Explains a Nestlé India spokesperson, “We select our celebrities and brand ambassadors carefully in line with the brand values. We cherish these partnerships and we are happy that they have played a role in the brand’s journey.”
Brand experts believe Kohli has at least a good 10 years ahead in his cricket career. That’s a long enough period to manage his brand endorsement deals with care. Less is more, be selective, but milk more from those limited deals, seems to be his mantra.
The bouncers and the googlies
Which celebrity isn’t prone to controversies? Known for his aggressive behaviour on field, Kohli’s early days in cricket were marred with self-righteous outbursts. Consider how he, on his first tour to Australia in 2011, showed his middle finger to the Sydney crowd in response to the abuses they hurled at him when he was fielding the boundary line. Or his famous spat with Gautam Gambhir during an IPL match in 2013.
IBD India MD Rahul Gupta asserts that when Kohli was a young man, he did not care what the world thought about him. For marketers, he was a dicey, unpredictable option and worked well only in youth category brands, and even those brands kept a keen eye on his actions on field. “Things have changed after his captaincy. He is now more settled and sure of himself,” Gupta adds. “He is also now considered young and responsible, aggressive yet methodical, successful but humble.”
Says Harish Bijoor, brand expert and founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, “From the image of an individual high performer, Virat’s image will now emerge into the space of being the leader of the entire play. And that is something he needs to shape.”
“For him, endorsements are not a retirement plan. He plans to focus on his other ventures like Wrogn, Chisel, etc,” highlights Sadjeh. Kohli has even started an investment fund which will pump money in small consumer-based businesses.
All these factors have played in his favour. So much so, that brand experts do not see any other sports personality or even a Bollywood star (Ranveer Singh being an exception) giving him a challenge. “Kohli is in a unique position as he is a clear number one in terms of sporting icons currently, hence his brand endorsement kitty is expected to increase further,” says Karnik. The real test of course, will be to maintain his current winning streak both on and off field, and not just be the flavour of the season.