Last year, a jersey worn by American baseball legend Babe Ruth went under the hammer. The final bid? A cool $4.4 million, making it the most expensive memorabilia sold. But this is par for the course in the US, which has a highly developed, though fragmented, celebrity memorabilia market. The Indian celebrity merchandise market, in contrast, is virtually non-existent — so far, the only avenues have been the occasional auction, or fund-raiser for charity. But a beginning might now have been made with the launch of Collectabillia, an ecommerce venture selling authorised celebrity sports merchandise.
Collectabillia was conceived of by Anjana Reddy, the 24-year-old daughter of the promoter of beleaguered media company Deccan Chronicle (Reddy emphasises that the two are completely separate business entities) when she was in the US for her finance degree. There, Reddy could not but notice the kind of enthusiasm football inspired in her college friends. Coming from a country where cricket inspired a similar fervour, the enthusiasm was not hard to understand. The difference, she says, lay elsewhere — invariably, they would all come in their team jerseys or caps, or would at least possess some sport paraphernalia. In India, on the other hand, “One can buy an authentic Wayne Rooney jersey but not an authorised Sachin Tendulkar t-shirt, though we are a nation of cricket fans,” says Reddy.
Collectabillia offers a mix of products which it sells through its website, divided into three categories. At the top end is rare celebrity merchandise, which Reddy says will be sold through auctions, like the shoes Messi wore when he kicked a goal during the World Cup. Then there is memorabilia the company has created, such as a bat to commemorate Tendulkar’s 100th 100, signed by the “Little Master”, and priced at Rs 3.1 lakh. Or if you want something even more exclusive, there is a set of cricket bats individually autographed by every team which took part in the 1992 World Cup, which can be yours for Rs 16 lakh. Apart from Tendulkar and other popular Indian sportspersons like Virat Kohli, Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal, the company has also tied up with a host of international sporting icons, which means you can also pick up a glove autographed by Mike Tyson, or a racquet signed by Roger Federer. The products come with certificates of authenticity. The third category is affordable merchandise for fans, such as Manchester United t-shirts, caps, key chains and the like. Reddy has also tied up with Eros to create and market movie memorabilia, which includes merchandise for Rajinikanth’s upcoming film Kochadaiyaan.
Reddy says her venture, launched last month, is the first of its kind in India. That might well be. Unlike in countries like the UK and the US, which have multi-billion dollar celebrity memorabilia markets where fans, collectors and investors can buy merchandise from a variety of forums such as sports conventions or auction sites, the market in India is very nascent. But it seems to be developing gradually. Last year, an auction of Indian cinema memorabilia by Neville Tuli’s Osian raised around Rs 70 lakh. Tuli was subsequently quoted as saying this was a 200 per cent improvement over the last auction, held in 2007 — for example, a poster’s average lot price, he told a publication, increased from Rs 9,200 to Rs 28,600. Reddy also points out that she had launched an online platform during the previous IPL tournament, which she says was a success. “All 40 products listed were sold out.” The highest bids were Rs 20,000 for a Sachin Tendulkar jersey and Rs 16,000 for a Tendulkar cap. The concept has already attracted the interest of private equity investors, with Accel Partners (which has invested in Facebook, among others) picking up a stake. Since it is only developing, Reddy says it is hard to estimate the size of the market but the company is targeting revenues of Rs 3-Rs 4 crore at the end of the first year.
It might be a while before the market for memorabilia, and prices, are at par with what they are abroad. But Reddy is unfazed. “We are now where the art market was 10 years ago. At that time, people would call you mad for paying Rs 1 crore for an Indian artist, but today you’re paying much more,” she says.