Aishwarya Ramesh
Points of View

Thomas Cup victory: time for non-cricket athletes to shine?

The Olympic Year 2021 saw emerging athletes' endorsements rise by 79%, accounting for 13% of overall brand endorsement value. Have these athletes' brand value changed?

At the recently concluded Thomas Cup, the Indian men’s badminton team emerged victorious. The team comprising Kidambi Srikanth, Lakshya Sen, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Chirag Shetty, among others, won Gold medals. This brought India recognition on the international stage, but it remains to be seen if this will impact the brand equity of these athletes.

In India, a large chunk of brand endorsements and deals go to the cricketers from the men’s team. Some of the most popular endorsers from the team include MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar, Rishabh Pant, Rohit Sharma, among others.

According to a GroupM ESP’s Sporting Nation report, cricket accounts for 94 per cent of sports ad expenditure (adex). In 2021, cricket adex surpassed 2019 levels in both TV and digital - clocking in at around Rs 6,018 crore. The report also mentions that media spends on cricket in 2021 was higher (Rs 5,657 crore), than the overall media spends of 2019 (Rs 5,232 crore).

The spending on sports celebrity endorsement grew by 11 per cent year-on-year in 2021. A total of 444 brand endorsement deals happened in 2021, with cricketers accounting for 318 (deals) and 87 per cent of the total brand endorsement value. The Olympic Year of 2021 increased emerging athletes' endorsements by 79 per cent, accounting for 13 per cent of the overall brand endorsement value.

What equity do non-cricket athletes hold in this space, then? We have athletes like Neeraj Chopra, who endorses Byju’s, Gatorade, Nike and more. We also have PV Sindhu, who endorses Yonex, Visa, Bank of Baroda, etc. How much brand equity do these athletes shoulder? We spoke to a few experts to find out.

Edited excerpts:

Purshotam, chief general manager - retail liabilities, marketing & government business, Bank of Baroda

With the advent of the OTT channels, access to live sporting events is right in the palm of your hand. In addition, leagues in various sports such as badminton, kabaddi, football, hockey, etc., have also got India’s audiences watching sports other than cricket. This has led to the emergence of Indian sports stars across various disciplines.

Audiences also follow these athletes on social media. Nowadays, a Thomas Cup win is celebrated with the same enthusiasm as a Cricket World Cup win, and that is an incredible achievement in itself.

At Bank of Baroda, our philosophy has been to scout for promising talent and lend our support at an early stage, to build a long-term partnership. We brought both Sindhu and Srikanth on board as brand ambassadors before the 2016 Olympics, very early on in their careers.

Abhishek Sinha, co-founder & CEO, GoodDot (a plant-based meat company that Chopra endorses)

We signed on Chopra because there was synergy and resonance, in terms of value proposition - both of GoodDot as a brand and with him as a sportsperson. That was the time we had raised funding as well, so we saw it as a natural fit.

In India, cricket is a religion and many people follow it. So far, it has been that cricket and Bollywood have been benchmarks for celebrity endorsements till date. But things are changing.

Chopra has also been signed on for multiple brands, including Nike, Byju’s, Gatorade, Tata AIA Life Insurance, CRED and Gillette. Chopra charges around Rs 2.5 crore (his brand value increased after his Tokyo Olympics Gold win). When a brand like Byju’s or Tata signs him - his achievements and he himself will be showcased on billboards and ads.

It’s a cycle. When brands start onboarding athletes from other sports, they get more visibility and their market cap may increase. I feel many people may not understand what a prestigious cup the Thomas Cup is. The more awareness is created about sports and these events, the higher is the benefit for everyone involved.

Abhishek Sinha
Abhishek Sinha

Though there are multiple cricketers in India, there are only four or five big names who end up bagging the majority of the endorsements. These includes the likes of Kohli, Dhoni and Tendulkar. Each of these cricketers endorses multiple brands. So, it's challenging for a brand to break the clutter, stand out and create an identity.

Cricket is not played in all the countries. When Indian athletes win medals in sports that are played all over the world, we will garner worldwide recognition. If the endorser athlete wins medals in sports that are played in other countries, then he and the brand can get recognition both inside and outside India.

Ramakrishnan R, co-founder, Baseline Ventures

India’s victory at the Thomas Cup is as big as India winning the Cricket World Cup. However, despite the success, it’s still an uphill task to convince brands to sign these athletes on as ambassadors.

Today, brands consider signing athletes as endorsers once they have achieved success. Brands should ideally start supporting athletes even before their successes so that both can grow together and form a meaningful long-term partnership. This is how sports marketing happens in the western world too.

We manage Shetty, Sen and Srikanth. So, we’ve constantly been in the market asking for sponsorships. We’re happy for the win, but not excited that brands are going to come in, now after the victory.

That’s because some of these calls or offers may come in an euphoric state of mind. Once reality kicks in, we’ll see how many of these brands are willing to work with these guys over the long-term. It’s tough to win week in and week out in an individual sport.

Usually, we are star-struck by individual accomplishments. That doesn’t relate to the sport in totality. Sponsorships and endorsements are largely confined to that individual. This team victory will, hopefully, change that.

Visibility is a function of the sport. Badminton is televised live on TV. There is a fully functional calendar that’s clearly earmarked when top players play. So, we know the eyeballs are guaranteed. It is about time we started following the sport, and not the individual involved.

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