2018 has been yet another wonderful year for Virat Kohli. He is at #2 on the Forbes Celebrity 100 2018 India list with reported earnings of Rs. 228.09 crore, just short of Salman Khan, but ahead of Akshay Kumar, and more than double of MS Dhoni, his predecessor. He is at #83 on the Forbes list of The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes with an estimated earnings of USD 24 million (USD 4 million from salary and winnings, USD 20 million from endorsements), the only Indian on the list. Sure, the leaders on the list, #1 Floyd Mayweather (Boxing; USD 285 million), #2 Lionel Messi (Football; USD 111 million), #3 Cristiano Ronaldo (Football; USD 108 million) … #5 Neymar (Football; USD 90 million), #6 LeBron James (Basketball; USD 85.5 million), #7 Roger Federer (Tennis; USD 77.2 million) were far ahead but then each of them represents a different sport and operates in a different geography. The fact is that Virat Kohli is the only cricketer in the Top 100 list of the world’s best paid athletes, with no other cricketer even remotely close.
On the performance front with the bat too, Kohli excelled. He continued his record-breaking spree during the year, becoming the fastest to score 1000 ODI runs in a calendar year en route to his 37th career one-day international century against West Indies at Visakhapatnam. The India skipper took just 11 innings to reach the 1000 ODI runs milestone, bettering the previous record shared by South Africa’s Hashim Amla and Kohli himself. Amla scored 1000 runs in just 15 innings in 2010 to break a 27-year-old record held by England’s David Gower, who took 17 innings for the feat way back in 1983. But the new mark was matched by Kohli soon in 2012. And now he has gone one innings better. In 2018, Kohli has accumulated 1046 runs at a mind-boggling average of 149.42.
This year, Virat Kohli also became the fastest batsman in cricketing history to complete 10,000 ODI runs. In the process, Kohli broke the record of the legendary Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar completed 10,000 runs in 259 innings. Kohli took just 205 innings to reach the milestone.
Virat Kohli was equally prolific in Tests. He once again notched up 1000 runs in Test cricket in one calendar year, in 2018. This is the third consecutive year that the right-handed batsman has scored 1000 runs in the longest format of the game. He is now the only captain in the history to score 1000 runs in three consecutive years. Kohli scored 1215 runs in 2016 and 1059 runs in 2017 respectively. Otherwise too, he is most likely to be the highest run-getter in Tests this year.
Just for the record, in December 2018, Kohli became the first Asian captain ever to have won a test match in England, Australia and South Africa.
Virat Kohli remained India’s favorite sports celebrity by far for brand endorsements. His kitty touched 24 brands, including new assignments from Uber, Colgate Neon, Hero Xtreme 200R, Too Yumm, Amaze inverters, New Era and others. He continued to go strong on Manyavar, Wrogn, MRF, Volini, Tissot, Audi, Vicks, Puma and Philips. No other Indian cricketer, actually no cricketer or sportsperson, even comes remotely close to Kohli as a brand ambassador. Dhoni is already in phase-out mode, and Sachin has almost faded out. Amongst the current team, Shikhar Dhawan endorses a couple of brands, as does Hardik Pandya. KL Rahul recently signed a liquor brand. Other cricketers too do surface occasionally but King Kohli rules. And how.
But it is the other side of King Kohli that worries corporate India. His constantly courting controversy, his tantrums, his aggressive and abrasive heroics in social media and on-field sometimes give brand managers at his two dozen brand endorsements the heebee jeebees. This is the King Kong Kohli. Demolishing everything in sight when he is angry. Destructive. Demonic. Uncontrolled. Uncaring.
Kohli’s past run-ins have been well documented not to merit too much repetition. Nevertheless, just for the record, his showing his middle finger to the crowd at Sydney in 2012 was followed by an unapologetic tweet, "I agree cricketers don't have to retaliate. what when the crowd says the worst things about your mother and sister. the worst I've heard". (sic). His famous altercation with Gautam Gambhir in IPL 6 where he could well have ended up in fisticuffs on-field is often recounted as bad sportsmanship. His ‘serenading’ to-be-then-wife Anushka during an IPL game against Delhi Daredevils in 2015 … when he was spotted chatting with Anushka Sharma in the box during the rain break … was deemed against the anti-corruption rules of the ICC/BCCI. Also, his abusing a Hindustan Times journalist at Perth in 2015. And, his famous run-ins with Steve Smith in the home series versus the Australians earlier this year. But then, Virat’s point of view was, “I saw that happening two times when I was batting out there”. “I pointed that out to the umpire as well that I had seen their players looking upstairs for confirmation”. “And that's why the umpire was at him (Smith). When he turned back, the umpire knew what was going on exactly. We observed that, we told the match referee and the umpire that it's been happening for the last three days and it has to stop”.
Thankfully, Steve Smith acknowledged a ‘brain fade’. The most controversial of course has been Virat’s tiff with his coach Kumble. Anil Kumble resigned as a result.
2018 was equally controversial for Virat. He got into a spat when reading out a tweet from a cricket enthusiast in a live streaming. The fan had said, “Over-rated batsman and personally I see nothing special in his batting. I enjoy watching English and Australian batsmen more than these Indians”. Kohli went ballistic. “Okay, I don’t think you should live in India then you should go and live somewhere else, no? Why are you living in our country and loving other countries? I don’t mind you not liking me but I don’t think you should live in our country and like other things. Get your priorities right”. Social media trolled him like crazy. The controversy apparently did not go down well even with the Supreme Court appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) at the BCCI. The self-styled activist-administrator CoA member Diana Edulji in fact reportedly had a conversation with Kohli about his conduct as a captain. “He was told to be humble, in his interactions both with the press and the public,” the CoA was quoted. Virat Kohli, reports have it, apparently did not care two hoots for the advice from the lady captain of yesteryears. So, Virat Kohli was back to his usual aggressive style and had a verbal spat with Australian captain, Tim Paine. This got veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah all upset and he wrote in a Facebook post, “Virat K is not only the worlds best batsman but also the worlds worst behaved player. His cricketing brilliance pales beside his arrogance and bad manners. And I have no intention of leaving the country by the way”(sic). The controversy is still in full swing as I write this piece.
I approached my friend, leading corporate lawyer, Sunil Phatarphekar who also sits on the Boards of many companies, to ask whether clients need to incorporate any clauses in the celebrity contracts to get the brand ambassadors to not stir-up any unnecessary controversies. Sunil sent me a lot of variations of such clauses that already exist in most contracts … ground for termination, “… engages in any activity insulting to the general public or any activity risking the name or credibility of the said endorsement …” also representations like, “… agrees not to participate in any activities which would prejudice the goodwill and reputation of the Company and/or the Product during the term of the agreement …”.However Sunil was clearly of the opinion that no client would ever invoke any of the above clauses or representations for the kind of one-upmanship that, for example, Virat Kohli is currently engaged in versus Tim Paine. Also the “activity insulting to the general public” is far too general a clause, and too open-ended to be seriously invoked.
I also consulted senior Delhi based lawyer Munish Sharma of leading law firm Dua & Associates and persuaded him to help draft an anti-King Kong behavior clause that could strengthen the hands of clients. Munish sent me a clause which is possibly more stringent than clauses in current contracts, “… If at any time, in the opinion of Sponsor, Athlete becomes the subject of public disrepute, contempt, or scandal that affects Athlete's image or goodwill, then Company may, upon written notice to Athlete, immediately suspend or terminate this Endorsement Agreement and Athlete's services hereunder, in addition to any other rights and remedies that Sponsor may have hereunder or at law or in equity …”. This can be given more teeth with the addition of, “… If as a result of an act by the celebrity, the client or its events are the subject of public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, the client shall have the right, at its sole option, to terminate this Agreement …”.
Munish too, much like Sunil, was of the opinion that whatever Virat does in terms of intemperate behavior, really cannot or should not be regulated by clauses in any contract as it may affect his natural game, and his natural conduct on the field.
Both Sunil and Munish are right in their assessments about Virat Kohli. It is actually the inherent contradictions in Brand Kohli that make him what he is. It is the combination of Performance + Petulance that gives Brand Kohli irresistible charm. The BAV study of Young & Rubicam has a beautiful term to describe this: Tensity. Tensity is tension inherent in a brand. It is tension as a palpable energy created by opposite forces and when it exists, it makes things that much more interesting. And culturally, especially us Indians, we’re captivated by it. Great celebrities represent tension in their personalities, making them so much more charismatic and popular. Brand Tensity is the convergence of two or more contradictory forces, resulting in excitement, anticipation and a palpable energy. For instance, Marilyn Monroe was a combination of two very opposite traits, Innocence + Seduction. Traditionally untraditional. Princess Diana was a regular royal, described as an everyday princess. But she had this constant desire to resist the ordinary, which gave her personality a certain spunk and a unique swag.
Once a bar bouncer, now the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis is another fascinating human brand. The Pope is changing the global perception of what it means to be the Pope. He declines to wear ornate clothing and jewelry, encourages interfaith dialogue and refused the Papal apartment. He is seen as progressive, in touch with contemporary culture, and relatable while holding a traditional role. According to Pew Global, as of December 2014, Pope Francis had a 60% favorability rating around the world and was the most talked about topic on Facebook in 2014.
Brand Tensity exists in regular brands too. Take Apple for instance. The brand illustrates a tension between smart and sexy. Steve Jobs spoke of an “intersection between technology and humanity” – polar opposites. Land Rover is all about hardworking + luxury and Virgin Atlantic Airways combines seductive + service.
Brand Kohli has those inherent and inbuilt personality attributes that emanate excitement and possibilities. It is the kind of brand that can thereby harness deeper emotional commitment, trustworthiness, preference, and pricing power. Brand Kohli is authentic. His often seemingly contradictory dimensions imbue his personal brand with interest and irresistibility.
So, King Kohli is fine even when he behaves like King Kong Kohli. He is the enfant terrible of Indian cricket. Take it, or leave it. By current reckoning, most brands would rather take it rather than leave it.
More power to Brand Kohli in 2019! May he scale greater heights, score many many more runs, notch up many many more victories, endorse many many more brands … and may he punch a few more noses. That is the way we all like him. In fact, love him. Naseeruddin Shah sir, please excuse.
(Dr. Sandeep Goyal is a PhD from FMS-Delhi. His thesis is focused on Celebrities as Human Brands.)