Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

How Brand Rohit Sharma leads the pack

Despite being removed as Mumbai Indians captain and the occasional inconsistent form, the Indian cricket captain remains a sought-after brand, with close to 30 brand endorsement deals

Published: Jun 7, 2024 02:58:56 PM IST
Updated: Jun 10, 2024 12:13:23 PM IST

How Brand Rohit Sharma leads the packIndia captain Rohit Sharma bats during day three of the 4th Test Match between India and England at JSCA International Stadium Complex on February 25, 2024 in Ranchi, India. Image: Gareth Copley/Getty Images
 
IPL 2024 started on an unprecedented, albeit sour note for Mumbai Indians (MI) as their captain Hardik Pandya was booed by fans. Not just at away venues, but the 30-year-old faced taunts even at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, the home ground of the five-time IPL champions. Reason: Pandya, who was earlier traded from the Gujarat Titans, was announced as the skipper of MI, replacing Rohit Sharma, who, the fans felt, was dumped unceremoniously despite winning five titles in his 10-year stint.
 

While Sharma is back in the saddle for the national team for the ongoing T20 World Cup, and will lead India in Sunday’s high-octane clash against Pakistan, the fan backlash during the IPL points to his enduring appeal, something brands are looking to cash in on. So it is perhaps no surprise that Sharma, with 30 brand endorsements in his portfolio, is one of the most sought-after Indian cricketers. In 2024 alone, he is said to have signed on 12 brands, more than one-third of his overall portfolio that ranges from sportswear to mutual funds, media to personal care and everything in between. Industry sources state that his average deal size is close to Rs 5 crore and the average contract duration, one to two years.
 
Despite being stripped of captaincy at MI and an inconsistent form at times, what makes Sharma such a lucrative brand? “Of late, we have seen his stump mic clips going viral and even in the past he has come up with some witty gems making him very relatable. This is why brands feel like he would be a good fit for them as he has an aura of authenticity which works very well for brands,” says Bhairav Shanth, co-founder, ITW Universe. In a recent IPL encounter between MI and Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB), Sharma was caught bantering with RCB finisher Dinesh Karthik: “Dimaag mein iske World Cup chal raha hai (he’s eyeing a T20 World Cup slot),” he was heard telling Karthik, alluding to the latter’s explosive form in the twilight of his career. Sharma is candid, authentic and fun-loving, which has caught on with the masses and resonates with brands like Adidas India, CEAT, Oral B, Dream11 and Swiggy, who can reach out to a large target group through the Indian national captain.
 
He has been a brand ambassador for Adidas India for over a decade now. “We look out for athletes with values like team play, innovation, respect—Rohit, as a human being and athlete, personifies all of them,” says Neelendra Singh, managing director, Adidas India. Singh feels that Sharma drives both credibility and visibility for the brand. “He's the captain of one of the best performing teams we've had, and his teamwork is often spoken about even when he wasn't the captain in the IPL.”
 
Shanth of ITW feels that the removal from captaincy might actually be a blessing in disguise for Sharma’s brand equity. “Being removed from captaincy has driven public sentiment further in his favour and brands are tuned in to the outpouring of solidarity Rohit has received. These feats have solidified his reputation as a sort of big stage performer, further enhancing his stature as a preferred brand.” Outside of his leadership skills, he has a knack for delivering outstanding performances during critical moments—Sharma was the highest run-scorer at the ICC Men’s ODI World Cup in 2019, scoring a record five centuries in the tournament; he also aggregated the second-highest at the recently-concluded ODI World Cup.
 
Tyre manufacturing company CEAT has also had Sharma as their brand ambassador since 2015. One of the biggest reasons, says Lakshmi Narayanan B, CMO, CEAT was, “Our brand’s commitment is to craft superior high-performance tyres which can conquer all terrains. Rohit exemplifies these qualities fabulously.”
 
Sources state that the overall valuation of his deals is growing at 25 percent year-on-year. Currently, he endorses the 30 different brands in different forms of engagement, whether it is as an ambassador, an equity partner or as an advisor. Oral B is one of the newer brands that onboarded him in April. Gopalakrishnan Kalianna, vice president & category head—oral care, P&G India, says, “Cricket is the most loved sport in this country, and Rohit Sharma the indisputable "hitman", known for his powerful sixes on the field.” While the partnership is still quite new, Kalianna says the response from consumers has been phenomenal.

Also read: Why Amul is investing heavily in international cricket teams like USA Cricket

Creating ‘Brand Rohit’

While picking endorsements for Sharma, RISE Worldwide, the independent agency that manages him, closely studies how the partnership solves a brand problem and Sharma’s personal passions, and then creates a portfolio that would benefit both Sharma and the brand. The agency has been working with him for close to eight years now. Nikhil Bardia, head, RISE Worldwide, says, “All of Rohit’s associations—be it short-term for a single campaign or a long-term brand ambassador relationship—mean deeply to him and this is very evident in his discussions with the brands on how and what can be better; he is also constantly improvising.”
 
Sharma’s fan following and love for ‘Brand Rohit’ is evident on social media—totalling 81+ million across platforms. On Instagram alone, he has recorded the most follower increase in 2024 across all Indian cricketers and a 100 percent increase in engagement on static posts from 2023, says RISE Worldwide. Bardia adds, “We also focus on Róhit’s storytelling through reels and posts to identify brands that can fit well with it. Since there is vested interest, the collaborations also come naturally and the organic visibility is high.”
 
But would losing the ongoing ICC Men’s T20 World Cup impact his brand value? Shanth of ITW doesn’t think so. “Indian fans will be disappointed undoubtedly if India fails to win the T20 World Cup but we have seen Rohit perform both as a captain and a player in the past in such tournaments and a loss in the world cup is unlikely to have a major long-term impact on his personal brand value as long as his batting style and captaincy remain of the standard we have seen so far,” he says.

Also read: Beyond cricket: How brand RCB is being built

 

Building a legacy

But Sharma is also in the last mile of his cricketing career, and stands the risk of dipping equity once he hangs up his boots. Which is why RISE has built a diversified long-term portfolio for him. From being sought out as brand ambassador to now being pitched to come on board as an investor, Sharma’s off the field journey has continued to evolve. Says Bardia, “What we do is map trends, and anticipate the next big thing way ahead of time to give him first-mover advantage and build from there.  Our relationship with Rohit is to build a legacy that will speak for itself way beyond any timeline—be it through licencing, merchandising, content and investments—the avenues are endless.”
 
Besides, unlike earlier, now even retired cricketers enjoy longevity in fame, thanks to the IPL. However, the future would depend on what Sharma chooses to do. Shanth reckons that if he goes the mentor or coach route, he will still be in the public eye, and is likely to sign on brands as seen with Ravi Shastri, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. Even the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni are sought after, without any major cricketing affiliation post-retirement. Says Shanth, “Rohit is perhaps among the last generation of these pan-Indian superstars and should be able to command some brand equity even if he were to retire and not be as active on either the coaching or broadcasting scene.”