Raahil Chopra
Aug 25, 2014

Can Indian winners at CWG score as brand ambassadors?

Ramesh Srivats, founder, TenTenTen and Harjeet Chhabra, chief marketing officer, Adlabs Entertainment, think through why some athletes winning the nation top honours don’t remain top of mind for audiences and brands, and the correlation between the two. Will the scenario change with leagues for sports like Kabaddi??

Can Indian winners at CWG score as brand ambassadors?
We’d seen a few brands tie up with Indian Olympians after London 2012. None of the associations have been visible for long. Why is this the case?
Ramesh Srivats (RS): The answer to this is that brands latch onto people in the news.
Harjeet Chhabra (HC): The hype around Olympians is difficult to sustain as they rarely get media attention post the Olympics and hence there is little advantage that the brands derive from these. While these Olympians are respected, people don’t worship them. For brands that have a strategic fit, it might be a great idea to nurture this relationship. But for sure there is very little impact that the brands can expect in the immediate future with these associations.
Do sports stars have to attain celebrity status before becoming viable brand endorsers?
RS: Celebs are most of the time in the news in India. When it comes to Olympians, brands look at them when they are in the news. Brands don’t create celebs, but look to leverage them.
HC: Once sports stars attain celeb status for sure they come with a price tag. At times brands do manage to spot a talent early but mostly it is the other way round. Unless a sports star has a definitive personality and a decent following, they really wouldn’t help the brand. 
Is the value of endorsers directly proportional to the exposure their sports - and therefore they - get? Can we expect a star from a sport which gets international exposure only during Olympics/Asian Games, to emerge as a brand favourite?
RS: Typically an endorsement is supposed to get cut through results for a brand. If the endorser is a shooter, it only gets exposure during the above tournaments/games. So, it’s difficult for an endorser to get those cut through results.
In some cases these athletes can be successful brand endorsers even if they aren’t in the news throughout. That case would be if they have the value or stand for something. That’s why we see Mary Kom, Viswanathan Anand, Sania Miraza and Saina Nehwal as brand ambassadors of products.
HC: Very rarely would one see that happen. We have seen some stars emerge in tennis and badminton as well. The sport has to actively engage with people to make sure that the sports personality emerges as a brand favourite.
Is it about the popularity of the sport? Will the emergence of leagues for sports such as Badminton and Kabaddi see new brand endorsers emerge?
RS: Every little bit helps and these leagues for now are steps towards popularising the sports. Whether we like it or not, we are a one sport nation. Other sports have a long way to go and these leagues are baby steps.
HC: Badminton has seen some rising stars and they have managed to stay visible. Over a period of time they do have the potential to attract attention from brands. Going forward some of these sports will find brands willing to bet on them and stay associated for long.
Our Golds are at the CWG, not the Asian Games or Olympics. Does the lack of sponsor interest have to do with not many Indians being among world beaters in global sports?
RS: Because there are not many Indians being world beaters, brands are showing less interest. Brands are not doing CSR. I wish some brands try to become leaders of cultures, but it doesn’t make sense (for most brands). It’s the sporting bodies that have to get in to get the profile of sport stars up.
Cricket did this ever since we won the 1983 World Cup. Call them money-minded but the BCCI did this well.
I don’t think blaming (lack of) sponsor interest is right. Pro Kabaddi is packaged well and I’m watching it. So it’s more about the bodies. Star Sports, Kabaddi and players (participating in the league) will all benefit soon. Someone has to invest in building the sport.
HC: It’s more about lack of infrastructure and administration than sponsors. Also there is little in terms of livelihood that these sports promise as of now. Hence we will continue to see limited interest from people.
We’ve seen popular TV stars emerge (more so in regional languages) as brand ambassadors. Can celebrity management firms do more to cultivate (smaller) endorsers in sports?
RS: Yes, they can. Some MPs may disagree but Sania Mirza is the pride of Hyderabad. Same with wrestlers in Haryana or some footballer from other markets.
In their local markets they have celeb status and they can be leveraged even if the sport isn’t popular nationwide. It’s quite a win-win for both as these associations wouldn’t cost as much as hiring some of the national stars.
HC: TV stars engage with the audiences on a regular basis. There also is a lot of glamour associated that attracts brands to them beyond the connect with the sports star. If a particular sport is able to engage with and excite viewers on a regular basis, we can see some of these sportspersons turning into popular ambassadors.
(Published in the issue of Campaign India dated 22 August 2014.)
Campaign India