Aishwarya Ramesh

Federer retires: what fate do big-ticket athlete endorsers meet after?

Sachin Tendulkar used to endorse brands like Pepsi and Boost. Now he appears in ads for Spinny and AMFI. Will Federer meet a similar fate?

Recently, tennis player Roger Federer announced his retirement. According to a Times of India report, he has won 20 Grand Slam titles, claimed 103 other tournament titles and won 1,251 singles matches. At 36 years old, he holds the most number of Wimbledon titles for a men’s singles player. 

As an endorser, Federer has a long list of names to his credit. He has worked with brands like Rolex Watches, Uniqlo, Credit-Suisse, Mercedes-Benz, Louis Vuitton, Wilson Sporting Goods and more. According to a Sportskeeda report, his net worth is almost $550 million. 

This leads to a bigger question - what kind of brands is he going to endorse after he retires? Closer home in India, cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, used to endorse multiple brands when they were active, but their endorsements dropped after retirement. Tendulkar is now an investor and endorser of used-car buying and selling brand Spinny and he appears in AMFI’s  ‘Mutual Funds Sahi Hai’ ads.

Alekhya Chakrabarty, the head of marketing at Sunstone says that during his playing days, Tendulkar was called ‘the Little Master’. Unacademy took this association forward to launch the Icons’ masterclass series with him.

“Alongside performance, resilience and continuous improvement, Sachin also carried the aspirations of India. A value taken forward by Spinny through rekindling of memories and aspirations to beat the world as it urges its consumers to ‘go far’. Sachin's journey of graduating from a Maruti 800 to eventually owning a Ferrari - is the quintessential authentic embodiment of the aspirations of a nation. This is a thread which larger India connects strongly with even nine years after his retirement,” he explains.

Alekhya Chakrabarty
Alekhya Chakrabarty

Chakrabarty points out that this is how some brands put a spin on the equity of ex-sportspersons, such as what Cred did with cricketers like Dravid, Srinath, Prasad, Shastri, Kapil Dev. “This creates more engagement through differentiation than a straight extension of their equity, though this strategy is the exception, not the norm,” he says.

Ramakrishnan R (Ram), co-founder and director at Baseline Ventures, explains that brand endorsements depend on what stage of a career a sports person is in. When one is towards the end of a career, she/he chooses brands that partner with the athlete even after retirement. 

“It’s important that the brand stays relevant while the player is playing and after he retires too. In Federer’s case, with some of the brands he endorses, he will continue to have the same value as an endorser whether he is actively playing or not,” he says.

Chakrabarty says that nowadays, top athletes and their managers plan their retirements in advance. “Shaquille O'Neal is the second largest individual shareholder of Authentic Brands Group, which owns Forever 21, Barneys New York, JCPenney and Reebok. These deals happen during their playing days with the hope of getting compounded many times over by the time they retire. Serena Williams will turn her focus to a venture capital firm she quietly formed eight years ago. Sachin is a strategic investor in Spinny.Suffice to say, there are many ways now that sportspersons post retirement leverage their equity and persist,” he says.

Vigyan Verma, Founder of The Bottom Line, a brand consulting company explains that any sportsperson is bound to gradually lose out on endorsement deals after retirement. “Brand equity and relevance depend on how the former players keep themselves busy in the public domain, through speaking sessions, charity, high-profile coaching assignments, or visible media roles,” he says.

Vigyan Verma
Vigyan Verma

Ramakrishnan mentions that Federer’s current endorsement plans are attuned to his retirement plans. “Most of the brands that Federer talks about are attuned to greatness and that’s what they choose to focus on. Despite his retirement plans, the quantum of his endorsements do not change immediately. Eventually things will slow down 5 years down the line,” he explains.

Verma takes the example of cricketer Anil Kumble signed up for endorsing a South India based steel supplier earlier this year. He points out that recently, an edtech player LaunchMyCareer appointed Rahul Dravid its brand ambassador, leveraging his ‘erudite mentor’ personality. "An edtech platform called Safalta that’s aimed at accessible quality education for the less privileged class, has signed up Virender Sehwag, leveraging the rooted, small-town appeal of the Najafgarh star," he says.

Verma adds that like brands, star athletes also have a functional dimension that's linked to performance, and a higher order dimension that's based on one's personality. “Federer’s style of play, brought more attention to his elegance and grace when he was at the peak of the tennis world. He augmented his physical appeal through bold but elegant fashion as well. It’s easier for someone like Federer to carry forward the values that are not linked directly to performance-classic elegance, grace, style, and perfectionism, in his non-playing career,” he says.

Ramakrishnan says that when it comes to a celebrity like Federer, it’s important to understand why he ended his deal with a brand like Nike and chose to work with Uniqlo instead.  “When it comes to brands like Credit-Suisse, it stands for trust. He also endorses Swiss Tourism and is a well recognised face in the industry,” he says.

Ramakrishnan emphasises with most athletes, it’s unrealistic to expect that a 50 year old athlete has the same brand equity as a 25 year old athlete, adding that at the end of the day, the sport is greater than those endorsing it.

According to Verma, marquee brands look for marquee stars. Especially for brands and categories that are linked to performance and need high visibility, being away from action on the ground can move one to a notch or two below in endorsement rankings.

"Sportspersons who have a dimension beyond performance can ride on that attribute for relevant brands. It is usually the less pedigreed brands that move to grab a prize catch in a former player, who would have otherwise been out of bounds earlier," he says.

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