BW Businessworld

‘Only In India, Movie Stars Make More Money Than Athletes’

In an interview, Bunty Sajdeh, CEO, Cornerstone Sport & Entertainment (39) talks about brand Virat Kohli, sports management and the life of a player agent

In 2008, Bunty Sajdeh, CEO, Cornerstone Sport & Entertainment, was watching the under-19 World Cup, when he noticed a particular young boy playing. The young batsman did not score great runs in the match but his attitude and the way he was marshalling the team was attractive. In the same year, when Sajdeh, who is in the business of celebrity endorsements, first met the young cricketer, he signed him immediately. The young boy was Virat Kohli and Sajdeh is now famously known as man behind Brand Virat. Cornerstone also manages Ajinkya Rahane, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma among others. In the past, Sajdeh has managed Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. In an interview with Himani Chandna, Sajdeh (39) talks about brand Virat Kohli, sports management and the life of a player agent. Edited Excerpts:

Virat Kohli has become the first Indian sportsman to have signed a Rs 100-crore deal with a single brand, Puma. Are you the man behind the deal?

Virat deserves it every bit. He has grown to a level where he can pull it off nicely, like other international athletes. Only about 15 per cent of mainstream Indian brands can afford Virat Kohli as their brand ambassador due to his shrinking availability and hence, the pricing. We had corporates coming to us with requests of a brand level engagement, but the primary criteria is to understand the comfort of Virat in promoting the brand. He resonates well with the sporting brands and it made me call up Puma.

How do you see sports management business evolving in next five years?
When I wanted to get into the management of sports stars, everyone was running after celebrity management as it gives big money.

Though, the role of the player agent in Indian sport gained prominence in the 1990s, when Mark Mascarenhas ensured that Sachin Tendulkar was pasted on our television screens, making him one of the highest paid sportsmen in the world, the glamour and money was huge in celebrity management.

However, after the introduction of the Indian Premier League in 2008, the consumption of sports has increased tremendously. There are various kinds of sports that have formed leagues resulting in increased flow of money in sports. The US runs nine successful leagues and billions of dollars are infused into sports.

Only in India, movie stars make more money than the athletes. However, with the growing craze for sports icons, in another 4-5 years, sports management will be a notch above celebrity management.

Do you think counting the endorsement deals in the kitty of sportsmen is a right measure of their commercial success?
Endorsements are not the apt way of measuring someone’s success. Good inflow of endorsement opportunities is an icing on the cake but it is a temporary measure. Brand endorsement deals are very volatile as they are directly related to the look, fitness, performance and hundreds of other factors.

If not brand endorsements, what is your brand promotion strategy for Virat Kohli?
We are picking much lesser endorsement deals for Virat. However, we are extending the licensing of brand Virat where we will be launching his logo with 2-3 product categories, by September probably.

Moreover, we are also working on Kohli’s animated character for the web and television series slated to launch by the end of this year.

What is your promotion plan for other players with you such as Ajinkya Rahane?
We signed Ajinkya last year. I told him that for the first six months, I am not going to push brands to seek his endorsement because, right now, he is known only for his cricket. But as a player agent, my work is to explore the player and bring him out of his shell. It is about creating an aura. There is a lot more to him, and we want to create a bit of edginess around his image.

Are you scouting for young athletes too, apart from investing your efforts on Kohli?
Certainly. We are also looking for non-cricketing athletes. Now, Cornerstone has young cricketers Shreyas Iyer, Manan Vohra, Mayank Dagar and Vijay Zol on its roster. We are evaluating several other young athletes and we are not at all looking for strategic fits in cricket. Though, cricket still rules 80 per cent of sports management market, other sports offer huge untapped potential.
Nurturing new players is not easy. Before the endorsements and corporate sponsorships start pouring in, you have to build a player’s image. The idea is to turn the next door boy into a person who deserves every bit of respect, whose lifestyle inspires others, whose watch, shoes, jacket or even the brand of water is what people will line up to buy. Honestly, I tell every new player that the process takes time and the first requirement is the on ground performance.

You started with brand Yuvraj Singh. How do you plan to drive the future growth of Cornerstone?
We are investing on innovation in brand management space. We will be launching two intellectual properties by the third quarter of this year. I cannot divulge much details on those IPRs, but one property is in the digital space and the other is in the conventional space — with the core concept developed around sports. We are clocking growth of up to 40 per cent annually in our revenues and I expect it to swell further in the coming days.

The government in 2016, had accepted the recommendations of a Parliamentary panel to impose stringent accountability on celebrities for endorsing products and for misleading advertisements. Your thoughts.
I don’t agree. At the end of the day, endorsements are a part of the business strategy for celebrities. Unless and until someone is endorsing an injurious or illegal product, the government agencies cannot expect celebrities to witness the manufacturing and making of every product they endorse. It is not their job. For instance, in the Maggi noodles fiasco, sending notices to Amitabh Bachchan did not make sense. After all, he was promoting a product cleared by government agencies.

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