Arati Rao
Apr 05, 2011

Profile: "Sports doesn’t have the life cycle of Bollywood"

Anirban Das Blah, managing director of KWAN, talks to Arati Rao on the business of celebrity management in India


As leaps of faith go, Anirban Das Blah took a fairly substantial one in 2002 – particularly since it required an 85 percent pay cut. At the time, Blah was head of marketing for Bharti’s telecom software business, and was disillusioned with the way the IT and telecom industry functioned in India, as opposed to the way it did in Europe from his experience with Ericsson Sweden for two years. Bl

ah had decided to move back to Europe with a job in the UK, when a new opportunity came out of the blue. “The agency I was working with in Bangalore, Fisheye Creative, was helping Mahesh Bhupathi to create the brand identity for his start-up in the sports management space, called Globosport,” said Blah. “I’d got a job in London, but before I moved, I thought it would be interesting to meet with these guys because I’d always had a passion for sports – I’d seen ‘Jerry McGuire’ in the late 1990s and I thought that would be a fantastic job. So I met with Vinay Shenoy from Mahesh’s team, and they offered me a job as one of the founders of the firm handling marketing, on a salary that was 15 percent of what I was earning. I’d become a hardcore IT & Telecom marketer but that really wasn’t me, I am much more consumer-oriented as a person. I also felt you can do things like this when you’re very young or when you’re in your mid-40s.”
Blah joined Globosport when it started in end 2002, largely as a sports events firm. About six months later, he started a sports talent division with domestic cricketers and junior sportspersons, like Sania Mirza who at that time was a 15-year old kid. As that side of the business began to get traction, Bhupathi fired the initial team in mid-2004, and put Blah in charge.

By 2005, Blah opened up the talent business to include movie stars as well, the first to be signed on being Saif Ali Khan. “We were the first people to understand there were two big trends happening: one, that there’s volatility when it came to sportspersons, and that there’s an inherent stability that comes with movie icons,” he explained. “Seagram and Lays were the first two tie-ups we did with Saif, and we told them that in urban India, this is who guys want to be and who girls want to date.”

By the time Blah quit in mid 2009 as the chief executive officer, co-owner and second largest promoter of Globosport, he had also been part of making it a Rs 100 crore billing company. He enumerated his reasons for leaving, “One, I wanted to build an agency that would influence people’s lives on a daily basis, versus just monetising their career on endorsements and appearances. In order to do that, I needed an agency that partners with investors that allow me to build that influence. The second reason is that while we had built Globosport into a very successful organisation, this is a business that I feel cannot be proprietor led. All we have is human capital, and you’re only as strong as the team that you have. So it has to be run in a very non-traditional manner. In order to implement that philosophy, I needed to be the promoter. Thirdly, Mahesh and I had very different management philosophies – his is more classic, almost MBA like, mine tends to be more counter intuitive and people oriented. So I needed the space to go out and build a company with my own persona.”

Blah set up KWAN in February 2010 as managing director. He said that there haven’t been any new learnings as such, except that his instincts were right: “KWAN has just been an opportunity for me to test a lot of thoughts I had about management and the industry. It has grown far more rapidly than I expected. To be in a situation where KWAN effectively controls four or five companies and businesses is a fantastic position to be in.”

According to Blah, as compared to competitors like Carving Dreams, Matrix, and Globosport, one of the big advantages KWAN has, is the gamut of services it can offer its clients, and its strategic partnerships with other smaller players. For someone like actress Genelia D’Souza who’s on their roster, the agency has divisions to handle her endorsements, shows and appearances, the production of her ad films, a PR agency called Eye D Communications, and a casting business called Outkast to let her know about upcoming projects. “We have an agency in the South called Artists Alliance which has a monopoly on endorsements in south India. We have a partnership with Elite where everyone from Elite who enters the movie business is co-managed by KWAN. We have a partnership with Bennett & Coleman where the Miss Indias are managed on a day to day basis by KWAN, and one with Cornerstone who manage Virat Kohli, Sonakshi Sinha and Neil Nitin Mukesh, where we sell their talent. So all of this increases our strength in the corporate world to a scale that other agencies don’t have,” he elaborated.

For Blah, movie stars and sportspersons are his brands. He said, “I think brand Sachin and brand Bachchan are two of the biggest brands in the country. But I don’t think the economic potential of brand Sachin over the next 10 years is significant. He’s currently a Rs 45-50 crore a year brand, I think that’ll shrink to about Rs 10-11 crores. It’s not going to be small by any stretch of the imagination but it won’t be as big as it is today. The nature of sports is that you don’t have the 20 year life cycle of Bollywood.”

On the future, Blah says, “We want to be a platform that attracts the best talent in the country and gives them the opportunity to work together and do the best work of their lives, and in the process, make the fairest money possible. We want to play a role in really professionalising the Indian entertainment industry. Also, celebrities in India are still at a stage where they monetise their time, and not their image. Globally, merchandising, licensing and digital rights are things where you could be sitting in the Bahamas while your brand is making money for you, and that’s where we want to go with our talent as well.”

The lowdown

Age Irrelevant. What matters are the results

Most treasured possession Time spent with family, friends and colleagues

Favourite media Print and internet

How do you relax With my collection of books and music

Always in the fridge Daim chocolate and cold coffee

Motto "Always build long term relationships and do the right thing. It’s not just good at a human level but is also good for business."


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