Lots to play for after the game

Last Updated: Tue, Oct 23, 2012 21:11 hrs

For 23 years, he has reigned supreme with his bat earning the sobriquet of Little Master. But as the magic begins to wane, the invariable question has come up all too often: Should Sachin Tendulkar retire?

With the 39-year-old cricketer finally indicating recently in an interview to a television channel that he may consider retirement after the Test series against England next month, the point is: Will he be the darling of advertisers as he has been over all these years?

Most experts believe brand Sachin will not fade irrespective of retirement, though a few such as Arun Pandey, chairman and managing director of celebrity management firm Rhiti Sports, say “Brand Sachin is big, yes. But the commercial terms may differ post his retirement. Brands will have to factor that in.”

With Tendulkar six months shy of forty, the period that will mark his entry into middle age, many believe his time as a player is up. The scenario was no different for legends such as Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar, who when nearing 40 found themselves confronted with the same dilemma. But while brands chose to marginally support Dev and Gavaskar following their retirement from cricket, that hardly appears to be the case with Tendulkar.

The five-feet-five-inch cricketer stands tall in a sport where there are frankly no dearth of stars. But experts say what sets Tendulkar apart are his trail-blazing ways. He has changed the rules of the game the moment he walked on to the cricket field as a professional player at the age of 16 in 1989.

The star’s enduring relationship with brands has continued since then. Beginning with health drink Boost, which his late agent Mark Mascarenhas managed to engineer getting his older brother Ajit to sign on the contract papers since Tendulkar was technically speaking a minor, advertisers have never failed to back the cricketer in thick as well as thin.

At one point, Tendulkar was endorsing as many as 20 brands making him the richest player in his sport. He currently endorses about 15 including names such as Audemars Piguet, Canon, Aviva, Reynolds, Adidas, Jaypee Group, Boost, Sunfeast, Royal Bank of Scotland, Future Group, Luminous, Ujala, Amit Enterprises, Coca Cola and Toshiba.

Some of them have been with the cricketer for a long time. Such as Adidas, which some experts say, was the second brand Tendulkar signed after Boost in the 1990s. Adidas’s relationship with Tendulkar was best described by the company’s brand director Tushar Goculdas when the cricketer had scored his hundredth century this March. Goculdas had said, “Our association with Sachin has been for 15 years and we will continue with it.”

Coca-Cola too had reaffirmed its association with the Master Blaster by releasing special edition cans at that time. Atul Singh, president & CEO, Coca-Cola (India and South West Asia) had said on the occasion, “Sachin has been spreading happiness and joy ever since he held the cricket bat in his hand. It is not just his on-field achievements but also his off-the field conduct which makes him a role model for millions.”

Brand experts believe that this endearing quality – of bringing joy and happiness – is likely to hold Tendulkar in good stead well after he has hung up his boots. Indranil Das Blah, chief operating officer, Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions, says, “Once Sachin retires, he will continue to be a big draw for brands, the reason being his lack of visibility on the field. People are used to seeing him for all these years on the field. He has brought much joy to all. But people will clamour for one glimpse of him post retirement. Which means his appeal will not die.”

Tendulkar’s endorsement fees are also not likely to come down too soon post retirement. According to industry estimates, Tendulkar comes third after Salman Khan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni in terms of annual income from endorsements. He earns Rs 40 crore to Dhoni’s Rs 70 crore and Khan’s Rs 80 crore.

Per brand, Tendulkar charges nothing less than Rs 6 crore – high, say experts, for a player who has peaked. Yet, brands appear to be willing to cough up this amount only because of the alluring magic of Tendulkar. For many Indians, say experts, he typifies the Middle Class dream – of a man who rose up the ranks through sheer hard work and a bit of luck. For brands, that is too compelling a story to resist.

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