Indian cricket rode the meteoric rise of Tendulkar
MUMBAI // Between his debut in 1989 and his retirement yesterday, Sachin Tendulkar provided the world of cricket with more than hours of batting pleasure: he became the spine around which the Indian game built itself into a multibillion dollar business.
Two years after Tendulkar began playing international cricket, the Indian economy began opening up to foreign investment, triggering two decades of high growth that not only increased the size of India’s middle class but also its spending power.
Tendulkar became a business unto himself after Mark Mascarenhas, a sports agent, signed him in 1996, offering him millions of dollars’ worth of endorsement deals. No Indian sportsman had seen such money before.
With the burgeoning reach of cable television, the Indian cricket board simultaneously realised the power and potential of telecasting rights in a cricket-mad country. Advertisement slots during cricket matches could be sold at dizzying rates to companies, which in turn looked to Tendulkar to feature in their commercials.
The monetisation of the sport was inevitable, said Shyam Balasubramanian, one of the two authors of The Business of Cricket.
“Cricket would have become bigger, but because of Sachin it became much, much bigger.”
Tendulkar became a unifying personality. “What drives the growth of a sports market is charisma and winning,” Mr Balasubramanian said. Tendulkar, in his own quiet way, oozed charisma, and he exemplified excellence in the sport.
Both Tendulkar and the Indian cricket establishment enjoyed the benefits of this boom.
Estimates of how much Tendulkar has earned over the course of his career run into the tens of millions of dollars. One estimate of his net worth by Wealth-X, a global wealth intelligence firm, pegs it at US$160 million (Dh588m), making him one of the richest cricketers in the world.
At the same time, the Indian cricket board has grown wealthier.
In 1996, the title sponsorship rights for the cricket World Cup – played on the subcontinent – were sold to the ITC group of companies for 400m rupees (Dh23.4m). Late last year, the title sponsorship rights for the next five years of the Indian Premier League, a domestic tournament, were sold to Pepsi for nearly 4 billion rupees.
“Think about it,” Mr Balasubramanian said. “A big emerging market, where there is one media platform and one unifying personality – no wonder the advertising money went to cricket.”
There were star cricketers even before Tendulkar, as Mario Rodrigues, a Mumbai-based sports historian, pointed out. As far back as the 1940s, the cricketer CK Nayudu landed an endorsement deal, for a product called Bathgate Liver Tonic.
“Another cricketer, Farokh Engineer, got signed up by Brylcreem, and apparently in return he got a free lifetime supply of the product,” Mr Rodrigues said. “Even superstars like Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, in the 1980s, had a brand value. But they were nothing compared to Sachin in terms of marketing power.”
Some of the new money has made its way into the pockets of other cricketers as well – other stars, such as MS Dhoni or Rahul Dravid, but also domestic cricketers, who have seen their annual salaries grow to 1.5m rupees and have benefited from a pension scheme instituted in 2003.
Tendulkar proved to be the Indian cricket board’s most bankable commodity: a sure-fire crowd-puller and a consistent performer.
Evidence of this, Mr Balasubramanian said, could be seen in the viewership of one-day matches during the peak of Tendulkar’s prowess. When he was batting, television viewership was often three times the number when he was not at the crease.
“The magic of Sachin was that he was able to transcend traditional segments based on region, gender or age,” Mr Balasubramanian said. “So his charisma was truly national in a diverse country.”
Updated: November 16, 2013 04:00 AM