Brand Tendulkar continues to sparkle  

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11 DEC 2018 : It has been five years since master blaster Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar last wielded his bat to the chants of ‘Sachin… Sachin… Sachin…’ but his aura and appeal has stayed strong with Brand Tendulkar continuing to flourish as the one of India’s most sought-after brand.

Tendulkar’s journey as a brand icon began in 1995 when celebrity agent Mark Mascarenhas signed him up for a five-year contract valued at 30 crore, making him the world’s most valued cricketer overnight. In 2001, as revenues, broadcast fees and player salaries increased, the contract was revised upwards to 100 crore. Since then, neither Tendulkar nor Indian cricket has looked back.

With earnings of over

80 crore in 2017-18 from 17 brands, Tendulkar is the only retiree to feature in Forbes India’s Celebrity 100. Standing tall at No 9 on the list, he commands an endorsement fee of around8-10 crore per year at par with the top two most sought after current generation of cricketers.

Data from SRT Sports Management (SRTSM), the company founded by the cricketer and his wife, Anjali in 2016 reveals that Tendulkar’s revenues from brand associations are estimated to more than double in FY19 as compared to FY15, the year he retired when the frenzy for Tendulkar was at it’s peak.

Tendulkar set up SRTSM, bringing together seasoned managers to chart the growth trajectory of his second innings. At a time when peers chose to be represented by an external agency, he decided to chart a different path with his own company to transform ‘Brand Sachin’ into ‘Enterprise Sachin’. “While I was playing, I never focused on anything else. Now that I have some more time, I want to have my own organisation that would reflect my values,” says Tendulkar.

Mrinmoy Mukherjee, a marketing and sales professional with over two decades of experience in running large corporate brands and businesses, was thrown the challenge as he came on board as director and CEO. “Commercially, if you just look at endorsements, you can lock brands for two-, three- or five-year periods. They are finite in nature. However, if you can create value through building businesses and brands which are aligned with SRT’s core brand values, and ensure cash flowsrevenue streams through equity, joint ventures and royalty, you can sustain it over a long time. Rather than look at here-and-now, we decided to explore channels of legacy-creation in association with our brand and business partners,” says Mukherjee.

SRTSM benchmarked brands against their commercial potential and values. “We decided to rationalise our portfolio on the key criteria of brand value match, social relevance and commercial appeal. We decided to sharply focus brand SRT and our portfolio of brands on key attributes and values which are core to us and we chose to extend to connect with our target audience,” says Mukherjee. The team decided to go deep instead of wide, with a handful of brands that would give them more salience. Accordingly, Tendulkar’s brand endorsements have reduced to 17 as of October 2018 from a bouquet of 25 two years ago, but his revenue has doubled during this period. “We have seen a 40 to 60 percent year-on-year increase in revenue year on year over the last two and a half years” adds Mukherjee.

In addition, Tendulkar has an absolute veto over what he associates with. Tobacco, alcohol or gambling endorsements are a strict no. “When I started playing, I had promised my father I wouldn’t endorse these, directly or through surrogates. If you remember, in the mid-1990s, two tobacco brands had sponsored bat stickers. The entire team was playing with them, except No 4. I played with a blank blade,” he says. “Around 2010, too, an alcohol company literally offered me a blank cheque and I refused. I hadn’t done it then, and I still won’t do it.”

Mukherjee reveals that during their initial strategy planning meetings, Tendulkar made it clear that his portfolio had to deliver value socially. That resulted in partnerships with the government on key initiatives, such as Swachh Bharat, Skill India and road safety, and extending his association with Unicef (which started in 2003); he has backed Unicef’s polio prevention programmes and hygiene and sanitation campaigns for children, has been appointed the UN ambassador for South Asia, and the Unicef and ICC Cricket for Good ambassador for the Women’s World Cup. These enabled advocacy on issues that he held dear: Healthy living for kids and the propagation of sports among women.

One of his portfolio picks was IDBI Federal Life Insurance, which, instead of instilling the fear of death and financial insecurity, invoked a message of health and wellness by sponsoring marathons in Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and Kochi, four of its top markets. Since 2016, Tendulkar has been an ambassador for the marathons, flagging them off as early as 4.30 am, and staying on for prize distributions in pouring rain, like for the Mumbai half marathon in August 2017. This October, the company expanded his role and signed him on as an ambassador for the entire brand.

Tendulkar’s choice of signing up for Apollo Tyres a few months ago, despite his association with rivals MRF for many years during his playing days. Its tagline ‘Going The Distance’ is in sync with his brand vision and, as an Indian multinational, the company represents what Tendulkar stood for. “When we look at Sachin, he is not just a cricketer, but a sporting icon. He still inspires Indians. His premium positioning and global journey are similar with Apollo’s. His image is sticky, and appeal ageless,” says Satish Sharma, president, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa region, for Apollo Tyres.

And the values he stood for, adds Richard Goatley, CEO of Middlesex County Club, which has tied up with Tendulkar to roll out the Tendulkar Middlesex Global Academy (TMGA), in which the cricketer and coaches of the British club have drawn up a curriculum. “His values of playing with honesty and integrity go far beyond just being a good batsman or bowler. They will continue to stay relevant because they outlive the cut-throat aspects of life,” says Goatley.

The future of branding lies in the digital space, in its social and participatory prowess, and it’s an aspect even cricketing gods can’t turn a blind eye to. Besides endorsements, SRTSM has had to rewire its strategy to focus on digital platforms as a second stream of revenues. Part of building a captive audience comes from SRTSM’s 51:49 joint venture with JetSynthesys, a digital entertainment and gaming company, to develop 100 MB, an online platform that aggregates multi-format content like chats, quizzes, and auction of personalised merchandise.

Tendulkar’s digital footprint, meanwhile, has doubled in the last two years with a current combined following of over 70 million across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and 100 MB, up from 38.6 million in April 2016.

JetSynthesys is developing the Sachin Saga Cricket Champions, a free 3D game where gamers can play as the legend in virtual reality. With high-end graphics and animations derived from flying down Tendulkar to the UK and motion capturing his shots, Sachin Saga has about 7.2 million downloads since its launch in December 2017.

Tendulkar also showed he has his finger on the pulse of business when, in 2015, he got into a business partnership with Smartron, a Hyderabad-based company founded by Mahesh Lingareddy that deals with the Internet of Things, and builds smart gadgets for everyday use. Tendulkar has a 5.5 percent stake in it, according to data from Tracxn. Or when he backed a 23-year-old Anjana Reddy in 2012, when the Deccan Chronicle scion launched Universal Sportsbiz Private Limited, which sold sports memorabilia and autographed merchandise. He stayed invested even as the company pivoted to fashion clothing end-2013, and started selling Kohli’s Wrogn in February 2015. As of October 2018, Tendulkar has a 7.2 percent stake in the company that has recently raised about
100 crore in Series E funding and is valued at 1,200 crore.