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Points of View: Will it be only Dhoni all the way?

By Surina Sayal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | December 05, 2008
Will other sportspersons become the next big names in brand endorsements, or will Dhoni continue to steal the limelight? afaqs! explores

With & #BANNER1 & # the retirement of some of the big names in cricket, does the Indian cricket team have a second layer of brand ambassadors to replace the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid? Will other sportspersons become the next big names in brand endorsements, or will Dhoni continue to steal the limelight? Some industry experts comment:

Santosh Padhi
Executive creative director and national art head, Leo Burnett

Sportspersons like Abhinav Bindra and Virender Singh will be considered largely. For the second rung of cricketers, I think platforms like the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Indian Cricket League (ICL) are good exposure, even more than ODIs (one day internationals) and Test matches. People are going to keep an eye out for those who shine.

Brands like Sonata and Brylcreem got Dhoni on board before he became so popular. Abhishek Nayar is a good prospect for Mumbai - I think he will be the future. People are experimenting with new talent. Dhoni, the all-rounder, on the other hand, is giving everybody tough competition when it comes to endorsements. He's also giving Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan a run for their money. SRK is in his 40s, Amitabh in his 60s, and Dhoni is just in his 20s. I think Dhoni even acted better than Saif Ali Khan in the Lays ad in which they both featured. I think the brand endorsement arena will attract new sports talent from cricket and beyond.

Jayanta Sengupta
Founder director, Skills Bridge Consultants

There will be opportunities for sportspersons like Abhinav Bindra and second tier cricketers. That's obvious - after all, nature abhors a vacuum. But since the only sport we in India care about is cricket, cricketers will bag most of the deals. Moreover, the Twenty20 format has brought a huge amount of visibility and money to cricketers who are not in the national team for any of the three forms of international cricket.

Deals for Olympic bronze medal winners like Sushil Kumar, Vijender Singh and boxers like Akhil Kumar and Jitender will go a long way in helping them achieve a lot more than they have. Abhinav Bindra already has a high profile endorsement campaign running and is a natural magnet for other deals, given his looks, personality and polish. It will be interesting to note how many new deals are offered to Vishwanathan Anand, who is once again a world champion. In my view, the imbalance between cricketers and non-cricketers will remain for quite a while, until India develops a sports culture.

Darshan M
Vice-president, commercial operations, Deccan Chargers

As performers like Gambhir, Dhoni and Ishant rise, the fans and the brands will warm up quickly to them. Sports fans are built over a period of time and will be governed by performance. The current breed of youngsters in the Indian cricket team is capable and will become iconic idols far quicker than the earlier generation, thanks to the large media explosion.

If you are wondering if the retirement of legends gives an opportunity for other sportspersons outside of cricket, the answer is no. Other sportspersons will only be as big as their chosen sport. For example, until more and more people watch badminton, Saina Nehwal will never become as big as a cricketer.

No matter who retires from cricket, there will always be somebody to take his place and a brand to support him. The large number of media vehicles will only make it easier for new brands to get built faster.

Manish Porwal
Chief executive officer, Percept Talent Management

An exaggerated analogy upfront to explain my point of view: Well, if cricket is a religion in India, cricketers are equivalent to gods. And one doesn't question the efficacy of god in our lives every now and then. They don't exit - they just keep coming in different avatars and are worshipped. What does happen, however, is that as a culture or civilisation develops, rather than depending only on gods to help us in times of need, we learn to go to experts (lesser gods?), who are credible in their fields. A developing society throws up artists, doctors, engineers and architects to begin with and then emerge business consultants, stock experts, etc.

The new breed of sportspeople from other fields represents such 'experts' in our lives. It shows that there is maturity in our economy and culture. In the world of brands/products and, therefore, in the world of endorsement, there is proliferation. Where once there were only three to four cricketers, who had all the ads that sportsmen could ever bag, today, the list of cricketers endorsing brands goes up to 10-12. That list is aided by a mushrooming list of ace sportsmen from various other pitches - football, tennis, billiards, wrestling, athletics, shooting…

Thanks to the maturing market, the discerning audiences and the thereby created sharper positioning and segmentation of brands, the concentration of ambassadorship is loosening. The upsurge as endorsers has got little to do with the exit of top cricket stars. Rarely will it happen that a brand considers Sachin and Abhinav for the same job or that Sourav and Vijendra will be vying for the same spot.

It is a coincidental, and not a causal, relationship between the exit of top cricket talent and the rise of other sport stars in the world of brands.