It has been a little over 10 years since a young Virat Kohli exploded onto the international cricket scene as the winning captain of the U19 World Cup in 2008. It is fair to say that the man also known as the “run machine”, thanks to his propensity for huge scores and unmatched consistency, has dominated a good part of these 10 years. While most will associate this domination with battering the world’s best bowling attack, a domination has been taking place off the field too. Virat Kohli the brand has been growing in stature with every passing year, so much so that the captain of the Indian cricket team has become the most valuable celebrity brand in India, with a brand value of $ 170.9 million, according to the Duff & Phelps report. Not just among cricketers, the man leads a chart where the next best in terms of brand value is actress Deepika Padukone, trailing behind the Delhi-born cricketer by a whopping $ 70.9 million as of January this year!
At last count, Virat Kohli endorses a total of 23 brands, out of which Myntra and Google Duo have been added in just the last 10 days. At the moment, Virat Kohli endorses brands like Audi, Manyavar, Puma, Too Yumm, WROGN, Uber, American Tourister, Boost and One8 to name a few.
The first time that the endorsement world sat up and took notice of this young cricketer was when he was the face of Hindustan Unilever’s Clear shampoo, with now wife Anushka Sharma. He immediately got recognized as a youth icon to connect with the urban groups between ages 14 and 45 with the success of the campaign. In 2017, he cut ties with major soft drinks brand Pepsi, citing that he only wanted to promote brands which are safe for people’s health. This further boosted his image as the go to guy for a responsible brand.
One does wonder what makes him this huge a brand, when cricket and endorsements have always been associated with each other. He has already outstripped the best of the brand values ever achieved by the biggest of cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar, and does not seem like slowing down anytime soon. Samit Sinha, Brand Consultant at Alchemist, says “Kohli achieved his milestones much earlier than, say, Sachin Tendulkar. While Tendulkar was also at the top of his game, he was a seen as a self-effacing, shy personality, more relatable with the appeal for Indian, old world charm”. When compared with MS Dhoni and his “Captain Cool” image, Virat Kohli is seen as an image of the young and aggressive India.
Naresh Gupta, managing partner and CSO, Bang in the Middle, says “Earlier there was the endorsement trinity of Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid. Now, it is only MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli. When Dhoni moves on, Kohli will be the only major star left in the team”.
One of the first brands that Kohli ever endorsed was FastTack, where he was paired with Genelia D’Souza. According to Ritesh Nath, VP Cornerstone Sport, the firm that manages Kohli, “the objective for him was visibility. We wanted him to be positioned alongside a young, peppy, hip brand which Fastrack was”. The objectives have since come a long way, with Nath saying “it has been a conscious effort to have him associate with premium brands and avoid the mass market space. We protected his image even more so during the beginning of his career, as his associations early on would set the precedent”.
Rumored to charge a staggering ₹ 6 Crores per day for endorsements, what sets Kohli apart from most of his celebrity contemporaries is the fact that most of his endorsement deals are structured to include some equity in the brand. This helps him maintain a long-term relevance and return, along with sharing in the upside of the brand’s performance. “We are cognizant of the fact that athletes, at the end of the day, will retire and at that point, they won’t enjoy the kind of endorsements they do today,” says Ritesh Nath. He continued, “over the last four-and-a-half years, we have looked at equity-based associations for Virat as a plan for after his cricket-playing career.”
Such contracts have been put in place for brands like Muve Acoustics, WROGN and One8, which is a sports brand licensed to Puma for a period of 8 years. The One8-Puma deal is similar to those Nike has with Michael Jordan and Cristiano Ronaldo, for Air Jordan and CR7 series respectively. However, while being invested in a brand over a long term seems like a good idea, one just can’t be sure of success, since business proficiency is whole other skill set.
Virat Kohli has had his fair share of controversies lately. He drew flak for posting a video with his wife scolding someone for littering, while also courted controversy for asking someone to leave India during the launch of his mobile app. So, do these controversies, or his performance for that matter, affect his brand value strongly? Not really. Kohli, unlike a Sourav Ganguly, is more popular for his individual brilliance rather than being the Captain of the Indian cricket team,” says Samit Sinha. According to Naresh Gupta, “Kohli has reached a point where he will be forgiven for an off-day on the field. But with such an aggressive personality, a case of bad behaviour could still go against him; for example, if he is rude or aggressive in his personal life”.
Well, we believe that as long as Virat Kohli can stay away from major controversies, there is no stopping him from ruling the world both on and off the field. Best of luck for the World Cup Skipper!