On January 4, cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni in an unexpected move, stepped down as the ODI and T20I captain of Indian cricket team. Unpredictability is second nature to the former captain when in 2014 Dhoni surprised the cricket world with his sudden announcement of retirement from Tests midway through a tour of Australia. The current announcement definitely comes as a shock to his fans and brands besides Indian cricket. This poses the most obvious question here: will Dhoni’s brand value take a beating post the announcement?
N Chandramouli, CEO of TRA, is sure about the impact but points out that it won’t be immediate, “It’s definitely going to impact the endorsements. It has happened to Sachin Tendulkar. With each victory your endorsement value increases. When you don’t have that opportunity you no longer have a method of measurement.”
Jagdeep Kapoor, CMD, Samsika Marketing Consultants, on the other hand thinks differently, “The decision by Dhoni is an excellent timing. It has kept not only his brand equity intact but enhanced it as an astute strategist, both on and off the field.”
Currently, Dhoni endorses 15 brands including Orient Fans, Sony, Big Bazaar, TVS Motors and Videocon. Last year he inked deals with Exide Life Insurance and Revital to be their brand ambassador. His usual charges are anywhere between Rs 8 crore and Rs 12 crore for endorsements which takes his annual earnings between Rs 120 crore and Rs 150 crore.
Much before his retirement he has showed his business acumen through his ventures and investments. Rhiti Sports is his flagship company which works in the areas of sports marketing and celebrity management. He holds 65 per cent in a chain of gym SportsFit World. His other venture includes Fitsoul, a sports and fitness retail firm and Seven, a lifestyle brand.
Dhoni is also a majority stakeholder in Optimum Vigilance Solutions, a company dealing in security and biometric systems. The former skipper even bought stakes in other sports -- he is the co-owner of Indian Super League side Chennaiyin FC and Hockey India League (HIL) team Ranchi Rays. Going by his love for bikes, it’s no surprise that Dhoni has a Motor Racing Team called Mahi Racing Team India which competes in the FIM Supersport World Championship.
According to Chandramouli cricketers are looking at different fields. He says, “When cricketers like him and Tendulkar retire, doors open up. They have alternative careers. Endorsement is not the-all-and-end-all.”
Kapoor offers his own take, “Dhoni has played so far four roles: wicketkeeper, batsman under various captains, captain and leader who has brought three prestigious cups and he has created a biopic in his lifetime that was the second or third highest grossing film last year. He has shown strategy as business person also. There is a lot of life in this brand which can and would be used appropriately by various brands to enhance their perceived value.”
But as it happens since Dhoni’s first announcement in 2014 brands have started sensing the end of his career approaching with multiple brands ending their association with Dhoni. This includes Cello, Aircel, Titan, GE Money, Amarpali, Big Bazaar, Dabur Honey and Boost. The biggest loss when Pepsi ended their 11-year association with Dhoni last August. It, however, has Virat Kohli as brand ambassador apart from Bollywood stars Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma. According to Forbes’ annual Fab 40 list for 2016, Dhoni’s brand value had reduced from $21 million in 2015 to $11 million in 2016, and his rank slipped from five to 10 during the same period. It’s also reported Kohli charges around Rs 2 crore a day versus Rs 1.5 crore by Dhoni. Does this strongly indicate that Dhoni is losing out to the new Indian captain?
Chandramouli doesn’t think so, “He will not lose to Kohli because Kohli has a different personality altogether. He will lose out personally because of the fact that he’s no longer an active sportsperson.”
When it comes to Dhoni’s contracts drying up, Chandramouli feels that the former captain will have endorsements even after five years but not from the same brands, “You will find a different set of people finding value in him at that point in time.”
On the other hand, Kapoor has a different stand altogether and is extremely confident of Dhoni’s brand value staying intact, “Dhoni will get more contracts because of his different positioning. He reflects resilience, leadership and never-say-die attitude. Out of that if one of his qualities of not being captain is not there that doesn’t diminish his brand value. In fact he’s going to emerge in his fifth role as a business strategist. I have a feeling he will get more contracts, his perceived value will go up, his fees will go up and he will be more selective. His brand equity will remain intact.”
He adds, “There will be a greater beeline for him as he will have more time for brand endorsements.”
This brings us to another question: will Dhoni remain relevant to his fans?
Chandramouli says, “Yes, to some extent. It will be a diminishing proposition because Dhoni is not an active sportsman anymore. But if he continues to do something relevant for his fans they will stay.”