The newfound fame of internationally acclaimed Indian wrestlers might be in commercial peril as talks signalling the demise of the ancient Greek game wrestling from the Olympics progress.
According to marketing experts, the proposal to remove the sport from the world’s most celebrated athletic event may hold back companies from tying up or renewing endorsement deals with these wrestlers like Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt, who have emerged from small towns as national brand icons.
While Kumar has represented for brands like Mountain Dew, Eicher tractors and National Egg Coordination Committee, Yogeshwar Dutt has been the government’s face in public awareness campaigns.
They command annual per-deal earnings of up to R1.5 crore, say industry experts. “The impact is obvious as companies shell out huge bucks on appearance and endorsement fees,” said Piyush Pandey, executive chairman, Ogilvy & Mather India. “The Olympics ground creates history where these wrestlers become icons.”
Adman Prahlad Kakkar echoed similar concerns. “They are the symbols of energy and power for the brands in the ad world,” Kakkar said.
On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee’s executive board agreed to drop wrestling from the 2020 Olympics but the final decision is still pending. If the sport gets a knockout punch, the young brand ambassadors may see a huge fall in their appearance and endorsement fees. They may see an altogether new fees slab, which may be half of what they rake in today.
“Companies spend crores on the ‘face’, which brings the medals. We may see market forces deciding a new and probably much lower price slab,” said Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, Brand-Comm, a brand consultancy firm.
Some of these wrestlers have already worked with popular brands including Pepsi, Nike, Eicher, Ralson Tyres and Emami. “He (currently) has at least six brands in his kitty, where the endorsement charge goes up to R1-1.5 crore per deal,” said Hitesh Gossain, brand manager at Percept Talent Management, which manages Sushil Kumar’s endorsements.
However, ad-gurus are unlikely to stop their hunt for internationally popular sportspersons.
“Till you hold that ‘face’, brands run after you,” said Arun Pandey, chairman, Rhiti sports management, a firm that handles endorsement deals for Indian cricket team captain MS Dhoni and badminton superstar Saina Nehwal. “Once you lose it in whatever manner, not many brands would approach for fresh deals or renewals.”