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Sports stars overtaking B-town celebs to become brands’ choice for endorsements

Several industry experts said that the rise of sports stars as the primary choice of endorsers has happened in the country and the trend is going to continue in the years ahead

There are several brands that are roping in sports celebrities as brand ambassadors or endorsers. Not just cricketers, but with the rise and rise of Olympians such as MC Mary Kom, Neeraj Chopra and others there has been a tremendous shift of endorsements from Bollywood stars to athletes and players who dominate the international scene in other sports such as badminton, football, and more.

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Indian cricketers since the mid-1980s have been the apple of the eye of advertising and marketing agencies in the country. But in recent times, several other sports personalities such as Neeraj Chopra for Under Armour, Abhinav Bindra for Gillette, Mirabai Chanu and Hima Das for Adidas, and PV Sindhu for Bridgestone, and more have proven their mass appeal and become hot properties for brands.

Arun Pandey

According to Arun Pandey, Chairman and Managing Director, Rhiti Group, “Earlier, there were a few people who represented the entire community. After 2008, there has been a transformation in terms of sports endorsements because the brands started understanding and broke the silos that the agencies had built over the years, limiting endorsements to the entertainment industry.”

Commenting on the value of sports in India, Pandey highlighted that the Indian sports industry isn’t at par with the global players, even today. “It is the agencies who are at fault here since they couldn’t help brands see the bigger picture and step out of the entertainment industry for endorsements.”

He also emphasised that it is the millennials and the Gen Zs who are the changemakers and the driving force behind brands reaching out to sports players for endorsements. As per Pandey, when any sports player talks about any brand, it automatically garners immense attention owing to his greater reach. “Also, with the community and the national sentiment attached to the brand, its value increases even further,” Pandey said.

According to the GroupM ESP Report, the size of the Indian sports industry was estimated to have exceeded Rs 9,500 crore in 2021. Additionally, the amount spent on celebrity endorsements in sports also increased by 11% on a year-on-year basis in 2021.

The report further also highlighted that Indian cricketers accounted for 318 endorsement deals, out of the total 444, and they made up 87% of the overall brand endorsement value out of those which took place last year. Also, emerging sports players' sponsorships climbed by 79% during the 2021 Olympics, making up 13% of the total value of brand endorsements.

Rutu Mody Kamdar

According to Rutu Mody Kamdar, Founder of Jigsaw Brand Consultants, “Bollywood celebrities have been losing their sheen for some time now, owing to the slump in the film industry and a lot of other controversies and issues that they’ve been embroiled in. For brands, sports stars are more stable and reliable as endorsers than celebrities. One bad movie or negative role or controversy could throw off a Bollywood celebrity's reputation, thereby also affecting the reputation of the brand.”

Kamdar added, “Sports players have a universal appeal in India. Through sports stars, a brand can bring out the values of grit, determination, hard work and spirit of sportsmanship. These are good and inspiring values for any brand to stand for.”

Harish Bijoor

Harish Bijoor, Brand Guru and Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults, stated, “In India cricket and Bollywood are sub-religions of their own. The stars from these realms rule the mindset of consumers. Both of them are arenas and spaces into which the consumers escape from their mundane lives and thus it is these two spaces which give us our brand endorsers.”

Additionally, Bijoor also pointed out that as Bollywood is going through a downside today, it is the sports stars and the Southern celebrities that are rising once again.

However, the GroupM Sporting nation report had highlighted that despite an increase in roping in of sportswomen and men, there is still a tall difference between cricket and other sports.

Pandey of Rhiti Sports also spoke about the differences between celebrities from sports and the entertainment industry, in terms of media coverage. He said that while actors like having a strong media presence around them, sportspersons like to stay away from it.

“As a brand ambassador, the role of the sports player is to communicate the brand’s message to the audience. When people hear from the sports players, they not only follow their aura and the perception but genuinely believe what they have to say,” he added.

Lakshmi Balasubramanian

According to Lakshmi Balasubramanian, Co-founder, Greenroom Network, “During the festive season, the brand goals typically are to increase awareness or drive sales of certain ‘festive-specific’ products. They might also want to drive sales via discounts, drive footfalls for stores, etc. So, to meet such goals, brands rope in both B-Town and sports celebrities and influencers who help in creating awareness and drive a reach for that particular brand or product line.”

Moreover, Balasubramanian also stated that if the target audience of a certain brand is also a fan of a sports player, it’s a great fit. “One, if the audience of a certain brand fits the audience of a sports player and two, the tone of the sportsperson syncs with that of the brand tone the match is perfect,” she said.

However, roping in sports players as an endorser or brand ambassadors has its own perks and shortcomings. “Challenges that brands face in getting sports celebrities to endorse is largely high cost and lack of availability,” highlighted Kamdar.

Adding to this, Balasubramanian stated, “The sports players are very busy with matches, events, practices etc and the brands need at least three-four days of time with them in addition to timely social media posts.”

She also went on to state that the winning rate of any sports person also impacts the choice of brands for endorsements and the more the players are in the public view, the more their value increases.

Upon being questioned on the presence of a price-parity in terms of brand endorsements, Pandey said, “There is a parity in terms of the rates that are paid to both B-town celebs and sports players in the same categories.”

Furthermore, Jigsaw’s Kamdar pointed out that brands should engage with sports persons at a more strategic level rather than limiting the deals to a few tactical attention seeking measures and that the values imbibed by the sports player should resonate at a brand level.

“The trend of sportspersons becoming brand endorsers will definitely continue. Sports people have had a universal appeal for decades together, and attaching them to brands is a natural extension of their popularity,” she said.

“The film industry is like a well, and the sports world is like sand which is free from any geographical or linguistic barrier. It’s a very small room for piousness, precision, discipline and this is just the beginning of the sports endorsements in the country,” Rhiti Group’s Pandey said on a concluding note.


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