Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

How Jasprit Bumrah is bowling the brands over

With rising brand equity and a social media following that is the highest among all bowlers in the world, Bumrah is an outlier in a country where batters typically command high value

Kathakali Chanda
Published: Aug 28, 2023 11:42:24 AM IST
Updated: Aug 28, 2023 12:18:54 PM IST

How Jasprit Bumrah is bowling the brands overJasprit Bumrah, Indian Cricketer Image: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Three hundred and twenty seven days after Jasprit Bumrah went into an injury-induced layoff from international cricket, the speedster returned to the field in the three-match T20 series against Ireland, skippered the side, got a wicket with his second ball, and ended up as the Player of the Series. In the eight overs that he bowled in a rain-curtailed tournament, Bumrah bagged four wickets, notched up the lowest economy rate in the second match, and bowled a wicket-maiden as well.  

While the cricket nerds can parse his action, speed and what have you, for the average Indian fan, the return of the vintage Bumrah would bring much cheer ahead of the Asia Cup and the ICC Men’s ODI World Cup to be played at home. If there’s one question that has bugged them more than who deserves to play at No. 4, it is when will the bowler return.

What Bumrah means to cricket fans and the eyeballs he garners with his on-field performance can be gauged by the loyalty of the brands he endorses, none of whom deserted him in the period–nearly a year–he was away from the game. Despite brand endorsements being linked to an athlete’s performance and visibility, Bumrah managed to not only retain all the 11 brands he previously had in his portfolio, say industry sources, he also added two during this period, with a third to be announced soon.
“In the next 12 months, we’re hoping to add another 50 percent and go up to 20,” says Nikhil Bardia, head of sponsorship sales & talent, Rise Worldwide, the agency that represents Bumrah. His endorsement fees have also jumped nearly 10x over his career, from around Rs20-30 lakh a day in 2016, to Rs1.5-2 crore per day currently.  

On social media, the bowler has notched up approximately 100K followers in the three months since announcing his return–in end-May, with a photo of his bowling shoes captioned ‘Hello friend, we meet again’–with his total follower count touching about 25 million across platforms. His Instagram following has grown 7x since 2019, from 1.6 million in January 2019 to 10.4 million now. According to data by GroupM, the bowler who comes closest to his following is Yuzvendra Chahal with 8.8 million, but Chahal is far more prolific on the platform than Bumrah–with 1,626 posts to the latter’s 753. “He posts less frequently on social media than his counterparts in the team, but his posts receive much better engagement,” says Kunal Sawant, business head, INCA India, the influencer marketing arm of media investment company GroupM.

“Bumrah has the highest social media following among bowlers in the world, with 10.4 million followers on Instagram alone,” says Divya MS, head of talent and influencer marketing, ITW Consulting. “Even more interesting is that he didn’t lose followers despite being out of the game for a year.”

While in terms of absolute numbers, Bumrah may lag the frontline batters–Virat Kohli, for instance, has an Instagram following of 257 million, and Rohit Sharma 29.6 million–he’s an outlier among the bowlers, given that it’s the batters who are typically more visible, earn instant recall and enjoy a greater following. In India, especially, a country known for producing world-class spinners, no fast bowler, barring former captain Kapil Dev, has been able to start a conversation like Bumrah.

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According to Aviral Jain, the managing director of Kroll, which brings out an annual celebrity brand valuation report, Bumrah’s brand value stood close to Rs100 crore ($12 million) in 2022, placing him among the top 45 most valued celebrities in the country. Only five cricketers–all batters with the exception of Hardik Pandya, a batting all-rounder–were part of the top 25, and no bowlers, barring Bumrah, were in the top 50. “Now that he is back in action, his endorsement drive should be back in top gear,” says Jain.  

Bumrah has been the only bowler to be signed up by Rise Worldwide, whose batting roster includes the likes of superstars Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya to rising star Shreyas Iyer and newcomer Tilak Varma. “When we first signed up Bumrah in late 2018, our first reaction was this could be an athlete that could potentially be spoken about in the same breath as batters,” says Bardia. “Kapil Dev was the only bowler that has been spoken about in the same vein, and he’s the 1983 World Cup captain. People still remember what batters like Mohinder Amarnath, Srikanth, Sunil Gavaskar did in the tournament, but do they similarly remember what the bowlers did?”

Building up the brand equity of a bowler is different from a batter, and has a lot to do with educating the market, adds Bardia, instead of pushing for commercialisation early. “With Bumrah, we wanted to build gradually, and let his on-field performance prove credentials first,” he says.

On the field, Bumrah holds a unique appeal with his unorthodox action–a short hop-walk-sprint followed by a high-arm release–that sticks out in memory, much like a Paul Adams or a Lasith Malinga. “Once you see him, you can’t forget him,” says Ayaz Memon, veteran sports writer and author. “But that apart, he has also been a match winner for India. Barring a few exceptions, have you ever seen a batter take Bumrah to the cleaners?” India would be banking on Bumrah’s prowess in the upcoming ODI World Cup, beginning in India on October 5—in the previous edition held in England and Wales, he was the only Indian apart from batter Rohit Sharma to have made it to the Team of the Tournament.

Like a Malinga, Bumrah also has the uncanny ability of bowling toe-crushing yorkers at will. Memon further says: “While his unorthodox action brings memory recall, Bumrah also has a special set of skills—the accurate yorkers, the slower delivery that is so well-disguised, variations of short pitched deliveries. These make him difficult for a batter to read, and also makes him an extremely engaging bowler for a fan to watch. You can’t predict what he’s going to do next, and can’t take your eyes off when he’s bowling,”

That’s how Geoffrey Nagpal, the managing director of furniture fittings and hardware brand Ebco, got hooked when he first saw Bumrah’s peculiar bowling action in his debut Indian Premier League (IPL) match. With his bowling also doing the talking—according to Wisden, no other bowler in the 21st century, apart from Glenn McGrath and Muttiah Muralitharan, has more wickets at better averages than Bumrah—Nagpal decided this was a “match winner”, and that his company would rope him in as a brand ambassador. Ebco signed up Bumrah in 2018–the year he wrecked the Australian batting line-up with 21 wickets in a four-match Test series Down Under–and has been renewing the contract since.

“We recently renewed the contract for another two years at a time when he was out of action and we had no clue when he would make a comeback,” says Nagpal. “During this period, his endorsement fees have also increased manifold, but we’ve stuck with him because, just like our brand, he holds his own at the highest level and is world class.”
Nagpal recalls the day Bumrah had visited the Ebco office for a shoot and impressed everyone with his humility. “We got delayed with the shoot and he had to stay back beyond his scheduled hours,” he says. “He didn’t create any fuss or throw star tantrums and told us not to worry. He’s a good role model and has no rough edges.”

“If you look at highly marketable cricketers in India,” says Divya of ITW Consulting, “in addition to their cricketing accolades, Dhoni’s Captain Cool persona reigned big, and Virat’s forceful personality is admired. But Bumrah’s rise seems to be an antithesis to these, with brands signing him not necessarily on the basis of his off-field persona but purely for his on-field talent, which is rare and unique.”

It’s telling that Bumrah’s soaring popularity comes despite his reticent public persona. Bumrah’s media interviews have been few and far between, he isn’t known to put out a lot on social media, and was especially restrained during his injury layoff without posting frequent glimpses of his recovery, going against conventional wisdom of staying relevant and in the public eye to amp up brand equity.

“We consciously went low on content during his recovery,” says Bardia. “Unlike other national players, who put out what they were doing during recovery, we didn’t. It had a lot to do with his personality.” The first peek of Bumrah bowling on Instagram, posted on July 18, seven months after a similar post, drew 7.3 million views. “You could do 10 pieces of content to get a million views or you could do one piece of content and get a million views. We've gone with the latter, high-impact route,” says Bardia.

Also read: Dhoni, Kohli, celebs and the menace of misleading ads

Divya adds that Bumrah’s brand endorsement portfolio–from sportswear (Performax) to beverage (Thums Up) and lifestyle (Twills) to NFTs (Faze)–is diverse, indicating how his appeal cuts across sectors. This bouquet of brands, says Bardia, has been consciously put together to make Bumrah relatable, reflect who he is as a person. For instance, when lifestyle brand Twill signed him up, they had to ensure Bumrah would only be seen in attire that reflected his personal sense of fashion–toned down and sans bling. “That’s why we’ve stayed away from a category like, say, innerwear,” adds Bardia. “It simply doesn’t go with his personality.”

The portfolio is now set to expand, and the storytelling will evolve from focusing on his rise as a bowler to offering the fans a peek into his off-field persona. The recent campaign with confectionary brand Boomer, one of his latest signings, is an example of “unleashing Bumrah’s quirky side”, says Bardia.  

Why now? Not only because he has returned to the field after a long absence, but also because of how his role in the cricket team has shaped up in recent times. From being just another bowler in the team, Bumrah has clearly marked his territory as the leader of the pack. He has also led the Test team in England in 2022 and the T20 team in the recent Ireland series (in the absence of full-time skipper Rohit Sharma), and has been elevated to the core leadership of the national team. To put it simply, the story of the rise of a young boy with an odd bowling action has been told well-enough; now, as Bumrah moves into the next phase, so will the messaging. “Now we are going to see a lot more fun campaigns with him,” he says, adding that the bowler will also put out a lot more content on social media along with Sanjana Ganesan, his wife and well-known cricket presenter.
On the brand front, Bumrah’s marking his run-up, and the fans are licking their lips.