Saina Nehwal made sure everybody knew of her appointment to the IOC Athletes Commission with at least forty tweets on Tuesday. The number is not unusual for the badminton star, who has said that “there is no denying that I am addicted to my phone”.
“It helps me keep in touch with my fans and friends,” Nehwal has earlier told HT. “If I don’t access my accounts or update them every day, I feel incomplete.”
Monitoring said updates can come in handy for a correspondent. One can find videos of her post-surgery rehab, her first-ever swimming session and first on-court practice post surgery. You can also learn that she won’t be playing the Denmark and French Open this year and plans to return to action in two weeks from now.
Swimming 😜😜 pic.twitter.com/pgdMMnLkFC— Saina Nehwal (@NSaina) October 13, 2016
Problem is, such posts from to the world No. 5 come few and far between and they generally get buried under the seemingly endless barrage of selfies, plugs and product placement. From health insurance to housing projects, designer dresses to anti-fungal powder. Heck, fans can use an app Nehwal endorses to talk to the superstar (well, hear the pre-recorded message at least).
Candid dusting powder 😀 pic.twitter.com/Tq06I86nmP— Saina Nehwal (@NSaina) October 13, 2016
Long gone are the days when Indian athletes would struggle to land big-money deals if they weren’t male cricketers. Sun has begun to shine on other sports, and Nehwal is busy making hay.
The world No 1 ranking she achieved last year skyrocketed her brand value. She signed a three-year deal worth Rs 12cr to endorse a financial group. To put the staggering 4 crore a year deal in perspective, cricket’s behemoths MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli generally command 8-10 and 6-7 crore per year respectively. According to the Forbes magazine, Nehwal was the 47th richest Indian celebrity in 2015, and the richest non-cricket playing athlete.
The London Olympics bronze-medallist also signed a two-year deal with sports management group, IOS Sports & Entertainment, which will fetch her around Rs 25cr. The firm manages her endorsements, appearances, brand profiling, patents, licensing and digital rights, images and visibility on social networking sites.
The last bit is key. Social media is no longer reserved for companies trying to sell product. Branding on social media has become equally important for influencers such as sportspersons. Real Madrid footballer Cristiano Ronaldo rakes in approx 1.7cr for each time he tells his 4.7cr followers what to buy.
Now, Nehwal’s popularity is nowhere in the realm of the world’s highest paid athlete. But the Indian, with over 23 lakh followers on Twitter and 7 lakh fans on Facebook, isn’t doing too badly for herself.
It’s not just Nehwal. Unlike their tennis counterparts, who use social media for routine potshots at each other, the badminton players exhibit camaraderie. There are photos of get-togethers and dinners (and they make it a point to name the restaurant either).
Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa have both cultivated a loyal online fanbase, the latter celebrated reaching 3 lakh followers on Tuesday. And the Olympic silver-medallist PV Sindhu, who recently landed a 50-cr endorsement deal, is the latest to have taken the cue.
If Nehwal wants to use social media to grow her brand and chip away at the bastion of cricket, more power to her. She has undoubtedly earned enough accolades and respect to be able to plug away to her (and the sponsors’) heart’s content. But she needs to strike a balance between engaging the audience and blunt product endorsements, lest she risks driving away her fans.