Sportswoman Mirabai Chanu, who won a silver medal for India on day one at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 in the women’s 49 kg weightlifting event, seems to have caught the fancy of quite a few brands. The athlete, who hails from Manipur, has won medals at Asian Championships, Commonwealth Games and World Championships in the past, but her current Olympics feat has transformed her into an overnight sensation.
Chanu currently endorses Adidas apparel, and has done a few digital engagements with Mobil. But her brand value is now expected to shoot up.
Among the first to cash in on her success has been Domino’s, which, over a tweet, has promised Chanu ‘free pizza for life’ after she mentioned in an interview following the victory that she craved pizza. The company executives even sent pizzas to her family at home near Imphal to celebrate her win. Several other brands have congratulated her, but it is unclear which ones will eventually lap her up for endorsement deals.
“We have received queries from brands in categories such as women’s healthcare and nutrition, steel, tyres, an insurance company and even a jewellery brand,” reveals Neerav Tomar, promoter, IOS Sports & Entertainment, the talent management firm that handles Chanu’s portfolio. Some of these queries are for events, short-term campaigns or digital engagements, but Tomar and team, while open to these, are chiefly campaigning for long-term deals.
“While short-terms engagements are obvious and we welcome them, we feel that after putting in so much hard work and achieving heights for India, she deserves long-term endorsements too,” adds Tomar. He is counting on the fact that the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are around the corner next year, whereas the next Olympics will be due in as soon as two years’ time, too (since this edition was delayed due to the pandemic). So, her relevance may continue to increase for brands, depending, of course, on her performance in these tournaments.
Sources indicate that Chanu is likely to pitch for an endorsement fee of `1-1.25 crore per endorsement now, but realistically speaking, she may eventually settle at `50 lakh. Furthermore, her fee may also eventually depend on which other Indian, if at all, wins at the Olympics, or even clinches a gold.
“Right now, people know Mirabai’s name but not so much her face,” notes Manish Porwal, MD, Alchemist Marketing Solutions. “So initially, she may get digital influencer roles, or short-term endorsement deals but since weightlifting is not a spectator sport in India unlike cricket or tennis, there could be hurdles in commanding a strong brand value.” He points out further that despite winning a gold at the 2008 Summer Olympics in the past at an air rifle event – another non-spectator sport – Abhinav Bindra couldn’t sustain endorsements for long.
But there are exceptions like boxer Mary Kom, who have performed well over a period of time and are, therefore, well known. “Mary Kom created a career over a period of 10 years or so,” remarks Aviral Jain, MD, Duff & Phelps. “She is in a position to now monetise her brand value. While currently, brands may queue up to cash in on the hype around Mirabai, she needs to establish her legacy in order to be considered a star.”
A story like Chanu’s could, over the course of time, make for a biopic in Bollywood someday, but unless she is marketed well and delivers in her field in a sustained manner, she could end up being a flash in the pan, Porwal adds.
Historically, Olympics winners from India have not made significant dents in the brand endorsement spectrum, according to Sandeep Goyal, MD, Rediffusion, as most of these sports are not seen or watched often enough by audiences. “This brings the brand value down,” he notes. “While in the short term, ‘performance categories’ like energy drinks, banks or fitness apps may court Chanu, one well deserved achievement may not make someone a credible source of authority.”
Furthermore, harsh reality dictates that visible or popular sports like tennis or cricket tend to create the biggest sports endorsers. This explains why most campaigns that feature other sports winners like PV Sindhu, have to have her name and laurels splashed all over the ads to increase recognition. “That defeats the whole purpose of the association, if one has to keep reminding people who your endorser is and what they have achieved,” adds Goyal. That said, how well Chanu is packaged and marketed will help determine her brand value in the long-term.