As he enters the Sydney Cricket Ground on January 6 as the captain of the Indian Test team, Virat Kohli will be at the centre of all attention. The additional visibility will also do a world of good to brand Kohli.
The 26-year-old cricketer, known for his aggressive image both on and off the field, is currently the second-highest paid cricketer brand endorser in the country after Mahendra Singh Dhoni. While the latter commands around Rs 12 crore a year a brand, Kohli's fee is around Rs 10 crore. However, Dhoni is still miles ahead of his successor as Test team captain in the number of brands. He endorses 21 brands; Kohli's score is just 11 brands. While the number of brands might not shoot up overnight, brand managers believe his elevation to captaincy will definitely do wonders for his brand value.
"Brands may well see Tuesday's announcement as a precursor to Kohli replacing Dhoni as captain for all formats of the game. We will surely want to have him on board," says a brand manager on the condition on anonymity.
Brand experts say apart from having age on his side, Kohli has had a good run not only on the field, but on social media as well. He is among the most followed cricketers on Twitter with close to five million followers, and his official Facebook page has nearly 20 million 'likes'. All these factors lend to his visibility, which is the ultimate criterion for a cricketer brand endorser.
Bunty Sajdeh, founder and CEO of Cornerstone Sport and Entertainment, the firm that handles Kohli's publicity and brand endorsements, has maintained that exclusivity is the key to maintaining and growing brand value. Among the brands Kohli is associated with are Pepsi, Boost, Nestle Munch, Clear (hair care range), USL, Adidas, MRF, Mattel, Oakley, TVS and Vicks.
Sajdeh says Kohli's choice of brand partners depends on how deep the association between the player and the brand can go. For example, Kohli's business team is hard at work to develop a co-branded range of eyewear with Kohli's logo in association with Oakley, a brand he already endorses.
Kohli's team at Cornerstone has developed a logo for the player. The practice is popular in the West with players such as Roger Federer, Lionel Messi and Kobe Bryant, among others, having their own logos. In India, the concept is fairly unexplored with only Sachin Tendulkar having a logo, and that too only for Adidas cricket bats. Kohli will be the first to license the logo out to other brands in order to create lines and ranges of merchandise across categories.
Kohli will also go digital in a big way. The player launched his animation avatar recently, which will be leased out to brands. "The whole idea of launching an animated avatar is to target kids. Virat is a young sports icon for sure. We wanted to rope in kids into his brand presence and felt the best way to do it would be to have an animated character, which can then be used across various initiatives in the kids' space. One of Virat's animated appearances will be on a box of cereal from a leading FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) player in India. We are in talks with broadcasters for an animated series featuring the character and after a year or so of its (series') launch we may even look at made for television movies," says Jogesh Lulla, director of new media at CSE (a sister concern of Cornertsone).
The plan is to partner brands that want to reach out to kids and create animated advertisements with them. Plans are also afoot to launch a kids' clothing line with the character in focus and videogames around the digital avatar.
Much like Dhoni, Kohli has also picked up stake in a non-cricket sports team. The right-handed batsman is part of the quartet that owns the FC Goa team in the Hero Indian Super League, along with Venugopal Dhoot, Srinivas Dempo and Dattarao Salgaonkar. Estimates peg Kohli's investment at under Rs 1 crore and stakeholding under 25 per cent. The cricketer will be endorsing the team as well and part of the stake is in the form of sweat equity.
The investment has been made under a separate company set up to take care of Kohli's off-field investments. The same company has tied up with Universal Sportsbiz (USPL) along with Cornerstone to launch the clothing range Wrogn. The line will be launched later in 2015 with deals already in place with Myntra.com (online retailer) and Shoppers Stop for physical retail.
In the past, Kohli has said he is keen to explore avenues beyond the cricket pitch since "cricket is not going to last forever". Going by the number of ventures the cricketer is dabbling in, he will certainly remain a busy man in his second innings, too.