Dubai: Indian cricketers have endorsed products for decades now. However, the first player to realise the importance of sustained monetisation was Sunil Gavaskar, one of the finest batsmen ever. Gavaskar branded and marketed himself from his playing days.
In a chat at Tie Global Summit at Dubai Exhibition Centre, Gavaskar spoke about his entrepreneurial journey. In 1985, Gavaskar founded Professional Management Group (PMG), a sports marketing company, with advertising professional Sumedh Shah. He said: “Sumedh proposed a brand endorsement and asked me the fee, I was not very sure what to say.”
To which Shah, said, “Being a captain of the team if you don’t know what to charge then you don’t know what your value is”.
He later went on to explain about International Management Group started by Mark McCormack who were managing golfers like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and would do negotiations with the brands on their behalf. This idea struck a chord with Gavaskar and that is what led to the start of Professional Management Group with Shah.
The group burnt their fingers in their first project, which involved securing contracts for the Swedish Davis Cup who were touring India a few months later. The team included three players - Mats Wilander, Anders Jarryd and Stefan Edberg - among the Top 10 in the world rankings of the Association of Tennis Professionals. Gavaskar said: “Elsewhere, these players would charge a quarter of a million dollars to wear a wrist band, but we managed to get them for a lakh and a half (Rs150,000).”
However, the response was cold. Numerous rounds of advertising agencies only brought ignorant responses such as: “Is McEnroe also coming?” or “Davis Cup? Isn’t Wimbledon the international tennis tournament?” Nobody was interested in the Swedes. The PMG ran into a clean loss.
That is when they realised that any sports other that cricket would be challenging to market in India. They returned to the crease and started syndicating newspaper columns, which was a new concept, beginning with Gavaskar’s, followed by the other big names in various sports.
First TV show for sports
Another remarkable move was starting the first TV show for sports in India - ‘Sunil Gavaskar Presents’ - when there was no live television coverage of sports in the country. They reached out to a couple of channels that held the rights to show India matches and bought the rights. On the show, he would have candid conversations with domestic as well as international players about the matches.
His company has since pioneered many firsts in the industry and Gavaskar is glad that he paved the way for all sports management companies to launch in India. When asked about the other side of the business, he added he never interfered in the negotiations.
At 72, he has started his third innings, which is very close to his heart and to which he dedicates most of his time. The Heart to Heart Foundation is dedicated to saving the lives of children born with congenital heart defects (CHD) by providing free pediatric cardiac surgeries in collaboration with Sai Sanjeevani Hospitals.