Conflict of Interest. Three words that have become inseparable from Indian cricket over the past few years.
One of the organisations that keeps coming up in this discussion is Rhiti Sports Management - a player management agency that is run by Arun Pandey, who is believed to be a close friend of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. And what's more, there were reports that the CSK and India captain had ownership stakes in the firm - for a brief period, it was later clarified - that also managed a few of his teammates with India and the Super Kings.
One of them, Suresh Raina, has now left Rhiti Sports. According to a report published in the Economic Times, Raina has joined IOS Sports and Entertainment in a deal that is expected to be worth Rs 35 crore over the next three years.
The star batsman from UP who has been an ever-present in Dhoni's CSK said that he has made the move to have more attention paid to his commercial endorsments.
"I won't be the No. 2 player in this new company," he was quoted as saying by Economic Times, perhaps referring to Dhoni's position at Rhiti. It is worth noting that Dhoni is currently endorsing nearly 20 brands worth $20 million according to Forbes last year.
More recently, MSD was placed ninth on the list of 20 most marketable athletes in the world in a study conducted by London School of Marketing, ahead of the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kobe Bryant.
IOS will now manage Raina's endorsements and brand associations, corporate profile, patents and digital rights, images, visibility on social networking sites and merchandise.
"I was in touch with Neerav from past few months and we had several rounds of dialogs. I have been observing his company doing very interesting work for Olympic Sportspersons," Raina said.
"I believe IOS had all requisite credentials I needed, importantly they have a passionate and dedicated team who understands the space and comfort that a sportsperson needs."
"I am very happy to be represented by IOS and I am also elated that I would be working with the company that has produced results in the recent past," said Raina, who is celebrating 10 years of his international debut on July 30.
Raina is the first cricketer IOS has signed. IOS manages some elite sportspersons such as Olympic medalists Vijender Singh, boxer MC Mary Kom, wrestler Sushil Kumar.
Neerav Tomar, managing director and chief executive of IOS Sports, told Economic Times that the 'media-shy' Raina needs to be marketed better. "We want to position him as a reliable brand. He has been one of the top five Indian cricketers for some time now. We have already started working with some brands on Raina," he said.
"We were in touch with each other for a longtime and finally we have signed the deal. Raina has been very consistent in all formats of the game and has the flexibility to adapt and play as the situation demands."
"We already have our plans in place for managing Suresh Raina. Initially we will be doing his brand imagery. Also, we will be looking at brands that suits his image and fits his profile," Neerav added.
The Indian Express reported recently that, Cornerstone, the agency associated with Indian Test captain Virat Kohli, also has Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay, Ishant Sharma in their list of clients. The agency rebuffed possibilities of conflict of interest as Kohli was only a client and did not have ownership in the company, according to Cornerstone CEO Bunty Sajdeh.
This news also comes at a time when BCCI has issued notices to various board officials to sign an undertaking declaring that they do not have 'conflict of interest' while holding functionary posts in their respective cricket associations. This notice would soon be applicable to the players as well, the board had said.
"If there’s any conflict of interest on the player’s part — financial or otherwise – we will look into it. But rest assured, guidelines for the players will be out soon,” Jagmohan Dalmiya had told the Indian Express recently.
IOS, which is also celebrating 10 years of successful operations, works closely with more than 20 other sports stars including shuttler Saina Nehwal, shooter Gagan Narang, Indian men's hockey captain Sardar Singh, wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, shooter Heena Sidhu, hockey stars Sandeep Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh, archer Deepika Kumari, India's No. 1 squash player
While perhaps this move is meant purely to be a marketing one for Raina, it comes with the added bonus of not having to be associated with the Rhiti group.
And with the Lalit Modi saga playing out in the not too distant past, where Raina was accused of taking bribes, the CSK and India star could use this newer, more-marketable image to his benefit.
UPDATED WITH INPUTS FROM PTI
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Updated Date: Jul 29, 2015 09:34:04 IST