Kidambi Srikanth's case shows why even good performances aren't enough to attract endorsements
Post the Australia Open title, every corporate in town wants to be part of the Kidambi Srikanth photo frame, at least to explore the possibility of a marriage of brand with personality.
A month or two before the Rio Olympics, a FMCG firm had evinced interest in signing up Kidambi Srikanth. Things had moved fast with the business head of the company meeting Srikanth, posing for photographs, even fixing the deal value with his managers. But the deal was never closed because the firm was apprehensive as they believed they will need to spend a lot of money to promote Srikanth. This, despite the representatives being told they were missing out on big potential.
On the day Srikanth won the Australia Open title, R Ramakrishnan, director of Baseline Ventures, the sports management firm that represents the shuttler, messaged the honcho of the firm to remind him of what they had missed out on. The representative reacted merely with a thumbs up.
Two Superseries titles in two weeks is a long time in badminton. Soon after Sydney was conquered, Ramakrishnan's phone was buzzing again, with corporates wanting to invest in the success story. Among them were some who did not believe in Srikanth's promise and talent this time last year.
"My pitch to the brands has been the same. That a true sports marketing partnership is when the brand is part of the growth story, not rush in after the player has achieved big success. I would even point out that even the great Lin Dan had predicted, watch out for Srikanth," says Ramakrishnan.
Post the twin wins, Srikanth is going through the PV Sindhu phase post-Rio. The Olympic silver medallist's brand value increased 50 percent after August last year and now she is the second highest paid sportsperson in brand endorsements, after Virat Kohli. Sindhu commands a price of between Rs 1 crore to 1.25 crore a day. Compare this to Kohli, who is almost 100 percent more at around Rs 2 crore.
Post the Australia Open title, every corporate in town wants to be part of the Srikanth photo frame, at least to explore the possibility of a marriage of brand with personality. Cars are being gifted, the price quoted is being met with a lesser degree of hemming and hawing. With deals worth Rs 3 crore for a three-year period being spoken about, the Guntur boy's bird is clearly taking flight.
While it helps Srikanth, and deservingly so, the jury is out on how much Indian badminton gains as a result. The glass half-full way of looking at it is that it will motivate those players who haven't been lucky with endorsements yet to do better. It also gives a fair idea to beginners in the game and their parents about what can be achieved financially, with the right focus and hard work.
But it is not as if badminton is giving cricket a run for its money. Sports analysts point out that the premium even now is on spots and perimeter board advertising, even when it is a meaningless David vs Goliath West Indies-India contest. Corporates are still stuck in a medieval era, obsessed only with the visibility of their brands on live TV.
However, what has changed in the last couple of years is that whenever a brand is looking to break away from the cluttered world of cricket, it is looking at badminton as a choice, boosted of course by the on-court success.
But the Sindhus, Saina Nehwals and the Srikanths also will have to do much more in the virtual world to retain brand interest. Kohli has now emerged as the second most followed Indian on Facebook with over 35 million followers, just behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has 42 million plus followers. Kohli also has 16 million followers on Twitter and 14 million on Instagram. Srikanth has a job at hand as he has only 70,000 followers on Facebook and 86,000 on Twitter and he will need to engage more during his non-badminton hours. Sindhu is better at 1.34 million on Twitter and 1.24 million on Facebook.
Why this is important is because brands who do not have big money to spend, are increasingly using social media for short burst endorsements. Unlike the traditional way of using mainstream media to promote brands, sportspersons and other celebrities are now encouraged to tweet, post or record a selfie video endorsing a particular brand to engage with their followers.
"Numbers matter, the reach matters," points out Navneet Ganapathi, partner at Sportainment, a sports management company that has worked with IPL teams. It collaborated recently for a digital engagement with Suresh Raina, who has 8.8 million followers on Twitter even though he is not a regular in the Indian team now.
"Unlike a shoot for an endorsement and a meet-and-greet with a brand that could cost up to a few crores, using social media to promote a brand is cost effective as it won't need more than Rs 10-15 lakh," says Ganapathi.
Brands also look to invest in the personality and not just the on-court talent so that the marketability of the player is more. Kohli, in that sense, is a big brand name because not only does he excel on the 22 yards, he is outspoken and wears his heart on his sleeve as well. Sindhu is getting there as well, she is all pumped up when she is on court, screaming and shouting, almost as if to intimidate the opponent. That makes for riveting television and her transformation into a fashion diva especially on Instagram, presents a glamorous side to the shuttler.
Clearly, eating, drinking and sleeping badminton alone isn't enough to be a brand.
Sindhu, a silver medallist at Rio Games, notched up a 21-15 21-13 win over 13th seed Blichfeldt in a 41-minute match.
The soft-spoken Indian ace was not known for her aggression till five years back and it was chief national coach Pullela Gopichand, who had transformed her into an aggressive player ahead of the Rio Games.
The world number seven Indian will next play Hong Kong's world number 34 Cheung Ngan Yi in the group stage.