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Kidambi Srikanth's gender may pit him against cricketers for endorsements

While badminton is not new to players turning to endorsements, the field has been dominated by women

Urvi Malvania  |  Mumbai 

Srikanth's recent showings also facilely encapsulate the charge of India's men's badminton brigade. Along with Srikanth, India has three players in  the world's top 25
Srikanth’s recent showings also facilely encapsulate the charge of India’s men’s badminton brigade. Along with Srikanth, India has three players in the world’s top 25

With his second international win in as many weeks, has been thrust into the arc lights. No stranger to the victory podium, being the first male player to win a gold medal at the Swiss Open Grand Prix in 2015, his past successes did not trigger as much of an interest among advertisers  as this one. But his two wins are now forcing brands to take a close hard look.

To be fair, Srikanth is not a complete novice in the world of endorsements. Since his win in 2015, he has had a team managing his affairs off the court, specifically looking for a good brand fit. Ramakrishnan R, co-founder and director at Baseline Ventures, the agency that manages him says, “As his managers, we realised the potential he has. We have been acquainting brands with his game and his personality since 2015.”  Srikanth currently endorses Bank of Baroda, just as fellow player P V Sindhu (also managed by Baseline Ventures) does.

Srikanth’s recent wins and the fact that non-endorsements are growing in the country have ratcheted up the interest in his endorsement abilities.  Srikanth also finds himself in a unique place when it comes to joining the ranks of and P V Sindhu as a badminton star brand—he is the only male shuttler in the game. Can he leverage the interest and his unique positioning? While his managers are convinced his time has come, some believe that Srikanth still has a while to go before he nets a big one. This is partly because of the nature of the game he plays and also because brands in India are reluctant to back non-players for the long haul. “In case of non-sports, what helps seal the deal is an international win at an Asian Games or the Olympics. There will be a couple brands with foresight who rope him now, but the real rush to get him on board would probably start then. We’ve seen it happen with Saina (Nehwal) and (P V) Sindhu as well. They weren’t unknown exactly before their wins at these tournaments, but the wins got brands excited,” says Indranil das Blah, partner and director at CAA KWAN, a sports marketing and celebrity management firm. 

In his favour is the fact Srikanth currently is a one-man show in the badminton brand league. has been a known face in the endorsement circuit and the Rio Olympics wins pushed into the limelight as well. In their company Srikanth has a good shot at attracting brands that may have hitherto turned to or male-dominated sports for lack of an appropriate endorser. Srikanth’s chances are further brightened by the fact that brands are no longer as obsessed, although the sport still gets the maximum sponsorships and endorsement deals. According to a report by ESP Properties (Sporting nation in the making IV) Rio Olympic medal winners and Sakshi Malik (wrestling) contributed to non-endorsements growing by 83.5 per cent in 2016, from Rs42 crore to Rs77.1 crore. 

Kidambi Srikanth
Kidambi Srikanth
Ramakrishnan believes that Srikanth has ample potential for endorsements. He is convinced that it is all about positioning Brand Srikanth right and sees him as the next Rahul Dravid. In his attitude and approach to the game, the two he says are very alike. “Controlled aggression, discipline, and agility are his main qualities. Any brand that matches these, or requires these qualities in an endorser, can look at Srikanth. While the sport may be different, his personality is a lot like Rahul Dravid,” says Ramakrishnan.

While the comparison may be valid, brands may not weigh the two on the same scale. “The catch is that unlike cricket, badminton does not have the following that brands want, or at least that is the perception that brands have. Also, it is an intensive sport with a high risk of injury. Having said that, brands, especially ones looking for a contemporary and economic sports endorser would keep a keen eye on his progress,” says a brand manager. 

If there is any lesson that Srikanth could draw from fellow players, it is that it is as important to manage expectations on the field as it is off the field. However Ramakrishnan bats for a different set of measures for individual sports players such as Srikanth. They carry the credit for a victory as also the burden of defeat entirely on their shoulders. “Badminton is an individual sports and so, the way to measure success or consistency needs to be different,” he says.

 ALSO READ: Kidambi Srikanth rewriting badminton order with his successive title wins

While there has been speculation about the fee that Srikanth could command, few are willing to put a number down. “It’s too early to say. He does not have any individual endorsements so far and it depends on the brand’s requirement and his ability to commit time the year around. I would say anything between Rs10 to 15 lakh per day,” says a brand manager. This would put him in the same bracket as new cricketers, those who play in the Indian Premier League, rather than Team India.

Both and command significantly more, given they have established their presence. While Saina commands anything between Rs20 and 30 lakh a day, Sindhu’s fees range between Rs25 and 35 lakh a day. Most athletes commit to four to five days a year, but this could be customised depending on the sport they play and their requirement in training or on the field/court.