If brand market for sports is a men’s world – the domination is confined to Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar with Dhoni and Kohli taking the baton from their predecessor to set new bench marks. For brands, successful cricketers remain the first choice. Beyond that it is a women’s world when it comes to non-cricket sports.
For corporate in India, the top five brand names outside cricket today are all women.
The list is led by PV Sindhu, who following her silver medal at the Rio Games, has inked a Rs 50 crore endorsement deal with her promoters Baseline Ventutres, a sports marketing, entertainment and a brand licensing firm. This is be the best contract ever offered to a non-cricketer sportsperson in India.
Sindhu today is endorsing Bank of Baroda, Vizag Steel, online fashion shopping brand Myntra, Himalya Honey, Moov, GST and Yonex. There are more in the offing. What is remarkable about the deal is that Sindhu will not endorse brands with a ‘negative’ influence like cola brands. Something her coach and mentor Pullela Gopichand had also refused to do after his 2001 All-England title triumph. Sindhu in the endorsement market has also acquired the space of cine and modeling world. Glam girls from film industry in some other case might have been a better choice for brands like Myntra or Himalaya Honey, but the companies today find more value with Sindhu.
“People are really accepting Sindhu as women’s sports icon. Sponsors have started looking beyond cricket. However, more than male or female, it is achievement and visibility that matters. All major badminton tournaments are on television. With that comes acceptance. Sindhu is endorsing Vizag Steel, which might look like a brand for some macho man. But Sindhu with her consistent performance brings in the “nerve of steel” factor for this brand. She is also ruling the glam world with Himalaya Honey and Myntra like brands. She is all over on the covers of leading women’s magazines,” says Tuhin Mishra of Baseline Ventures.
Before Sindhu, two non-cricketer sports women to get an unprecedented value for endorsement deals, were badminton star Saina Nehwal, bronze medalist in 2012 Olympics, and tennis star Sania Mirza. As per the 2015 Forbes Celeb list , Saina’s earnings from endorsements and BWF World Superseries stood at Rs 16.99 crore, while Sania earned Rs 13.25 crore. Saina’s two-year Rs 25 crore deal with her promoter then following the 2016 London Games success was the biggest for a non-cricketer sports person then. Her Hyderabad city mate Sania was a close second.
For Saina, the brand promotion journey had begun way back in 2002 when Yonex had offered to sponsor her kit. In 2004, the Hydrabad girl was signed by BPCL as the rising star. She is the brand ambassador of Sahara India Pariwar. Saina endorses Herbalife, Top Ramen Noodles, Fortune Cooking Oil, NECC, Indian Overseas Bank, Vaseline, Sahara, Yonex , Kellogg, Edelweiss Group, Bajaj, Iodex, Emami, No Marks, Herbalife, FitBit and Indian Overseas Bank. Most recently Saina Nehwal was announced as the brand ambassador for Honor, the Huawei smartphone sub-brand.
Sania under her belt has Adidas, Wilson, FabB, Vancobb Chicken, Hathway, Volini and Emami brands, besides being the brand ambassador for the State of Telangana. MC Mary Kom, another Olympic medallist Indian girls, has been elevated to represent the nation in the Upper House of Indian Parliament – the Rajya Sabha. She is also an AIBA brand ambassador for women’s boxing. Mary Kom also endorses the healthcare brand Herbalife.
Does glam quotient matter for brands in women sportsperson endorsement deals? “Not really. It’s the success and visibility of that success that is important. Sania might win on glam quotient. But it’s Sindhu who has more acceptability in the market today,” says Harish Bijoor, brand expert and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
The women sportspersons in the brand world are making big strides. But there is a long way to go to bring the male-female ration gap in sports sponsorship market. “The nation has a 52:48 men-women ration. But in the brand world, top of the mind eye balls for women are mere 95:5,” Bijoor adds.
Earlier Olympic medal winners such as Abhinav Bindra or Rajyavardhan Rathore met with little success when it came to bagging big-bang endorsement deals. Sindhu’s deal win has to be seen in this context.The Rs 25 crore endorsement contract Saina Nehwal inked with her marketing agency following the 2012 London Games bronze, was far more higher than India’s lone Olympic Gold medallist Abhinav Bindra’s commercial values post 2008 Beijing Games glory.
Rio Games bronze medallist wrestler Sakshi Malik too believes nothing is as rewarding as your success that changes perceptions. “It’s success that I feel is rewarding – because every time you win, you change the mindset of at least one person who believed that wrestling was only a man’s sport. When I began people taunted me, laughed at me and stared at me every time I went to practice, but after the Olympic Medal, these same people come to my house with gifts, flowers and call me their ‘beti’,” says Sakshi. It is this acceptance the brands look forward to for encashment.
On the brand endorsement front, Sakshi today is the brand ambassador for Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign of the Haryana Government. She is also endorsing Nissan’s Datsun RediGo Sports model car.
There are no Sushils or no Yogeshwars in that bracket in spite of Olympic glory. “Our women are constantly proving themselves on global sports scene. One off success might get you some laurels, but recognition and acceptance comes with consistency. You need to be better than the best. That’s what Sindhus, Sainas and Sanias have proved over the years. You grab headlines to continuously etch your presence on masses memory. The brand value of our female sports start is a testimony to the acceptance of women power in Indian sports,” says Ashish Chadha, Chief Executive, Sporty Solutionz.
The market is cruel. There are no emotions. No spenders, if returns are not guaranteed. In a country obsessed with cricket Women in Blue have no takers for their achievements. This can only be misfortune of Indian women’s cricket that the most up to date platform for cricket data information – espncricinfo.com – still mentioning the 34-year-old Jhulan Goswami as one of the youngest members of Indian women’s cricket team.
World record holder Mithali Raj, the lady to slam an international double hundred, has no recognition from the corporate world in spite of an 18-year illustrious international career. “Our matches are not on television. No one gets to see our feats. No one recognizes us. How do we get brands to accept us,” laments the second highest run getter in women’s international cricket.
The brand gurus endorse Mathali’s views. “Create an IPL like league for women and see the change how brands will come hunting for women’s cricket,” says Bijoor.
Rio Paralympics silver medalist Deepa Malik echoes similar concers. “What I want to ask is, wasn’t my silver (at Rio Paralympics) on a par with the other silver and the bronze (from the Rio Games), the other two ladies got for India. My struggle as a sportsperson was equally tough. Do I not have the determination or the strength to do something for the country? I also have a pretty face, I also use the beauty products like them so why I can’t endorse them? Definitely, many corporate brands have awarded me, they have called me as a motivational speaker but no one has considered me as their brand ambassador. I feel that we still do hesitate to accept differently abled as someone who is endorsing a product,” says Deepa. But for brands it’s not just success, it’s the success with visibility that gets recognition.
The woman power of Indian sports is changing the dynamics of marketing world. It has not just penetrated into the territory hitherto dominated by cricket and cricketers, but also beware the glam girls of cine world. Indian sports women is emerging as the first choice to promote fashion, beauty, health and home brands, which till not long ago was believed to be your domain.