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The R word

Numbers don't stack up here

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In the cold logic of the business world, the desertion of Sachin's endorsements signals the beginning of the end.

When Sachin Tendulkar became the first batsman to make a 100 international centuries this year, it created little excitement in the corporate world. While the achievement garnered huge accolades, not many brands were busy charting out extensive campaigns to cash in on the master blaster's list of records. Getting to the milestone was, but, the next inevitable superlative that would only "put the best behind the man".

Tendulkar's failing performances, most recently reiterated in the ongoing cricket series against England, may have set critics alluding to the R word again. But unlike in his 23 years of cricket history, his poor performance has also unsettled corporate bigwigs this time. Tendulkar's annual endorsement fee currently stands between Rs 5 and 6 crore and his estimated total brand value is a massive Rs 200 crore.

Brands are being cautiously optimistic, but a poor show on field has led to dark whispers among advertisers who predict his endorsement charges to drop by 50 percent - 60 percent soon after his retirement. Beside poor performance, the overriding concern remains - that the fall this time will most likely be permanent.

That he should not play in the 2015 World Cup seems to be a unanimous opinion. But his decision to play in the England and the Pakistan series has worsened fears for advertisers who say it is now more likely that his brand endorsements will take a backseat. A graceful retirement is all what they are hoping for as not many hesitate to describe it as the lowest point in the little master's career.

"It has been a very bad decision for Sachin as he has nothing more left to achieve. He has to leave as a big hero. He has hit his lowest point and it is high time that he follows the footsteps of legendary cricketers and retire, " says Neerav Tomar, MD and CEO, IOS Sports & Entertainment.

According to market estimates, six out of Tendulkar's 17 endorsement deals are expected to end in 2012, subject to renewal. Five more are expected to end by 2015. Canon India, which had signed Tendulkar in 2007 has already decided not to renew its contract which ends this December. Even Boost, which has been associated with Tendulkar for over 20 years, is considering opting for a younger cricketer once his contract ends, sources said. The company declined to comment.

"Earlier whenever he failed to perform, brands were there to back him up as they were sure that Sachin would re-invent himself. This time, though, it seems more serious. Brands will back players who may stumble, but they may not stand for those who stop, " says brand expert Harish Bijoor.

World Sport Group, the agency that manages Sachin, strongly dismisses any indication of a dip in his brand image. "He has done enough as a cricketer to be a legend of the game. It is not the case of a young cricketer trying to establish his brand. As far as planning for his retirement, in 2009, we made a conscious decision to ensure that there was no linkage between his endorsements and his game, " says Harish. Krishnamachar, senior vice president & country head, World Sport Group (India).

If the number of endorsements alone were the deciding factor, advertisers say he is still at his peak. "In the last two years, only Canon has dropped him, " a company spokesperson for World Sport Group, Tendulkar's celebrity management agency, says. Three contracts have been signed this year alone, with brands such as BMW, Live Pure and SMAASH. Industry estimates suggest that the ST logo on Tendulkar's bat, in association with sportswear major Adidas, alone is estimated to have a valuation of over 25 per cent of Sachin's endorsement charges with the brand - an amount that comes to around Rs 10 crore. The brands that Sachin endorses range from beverage major Coca Cola to Castrol, realty firm Amit Enterprises, Toshiba, Aviva Life Insurance, Reynolds, Royal Bank of Scotland and several others.

But as is the case with industries such as Bollywood, experts say most of these brands are expected to stick only till his heydays continue. "In cricket, you are only as good as the game, and the game can't go on forever, " says Colvyn Harris, CEO of advertising agency JWT.

With his visibility to inevitably decline post his retirement;raking in a premium from brands will be a far cry, even for a legend as big as Tendulkar. "In Bollywood, like is the case with Amitabh Bachchan, you are still eligible to act at 75. The same does not hold for cricket, " Harris says.

Although his visibility might dip post his retirement, marketers say Tendulkar will remain in the brand world more as a face than as a performer. Unlike cricketers such as Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, experts say a timely retirement will ensure that endorsements continue to come his way. While associating with youth centred brands may no longer be possible, advertisers will continue to exploit Tendulkar's brand potential for more serious and value for money brands such as insurance, financial institutions and automobiles.

According to leading ad film director Prahlad Kakkar it is Tendulkar's dignity and steadfastness that brands will continue to cash in on. "He is a little man with a large heart and a big bat. It is of course the lowest point of his career, but he can't play in top form all the time. The older he gets, the more value for money brands he will get, " says Kakkar.

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