Sehwag featured in some memorable campaigns during his time. His swashbuckling attitude was the butt of many jokes and several punch lines but he was unfazed — neither did he change his style nor his approach to the game, or the brands he endorsed which never seemed to get enough of his earthy insouciance.
However after a series of not so memorable games, he lost his place in the team — his last test and one-day international was in 2013. The Sehwag that had set fire to the ground he walked on, went missing and so did the brands that had hung on to his bat.
His last endorsement deal was in 2012 with sports apparel and accessory brand Fila. “For any sportsman, performance is a primary requisite for attracting brand endorsements. Sehwag had been dropped from the team. He hardly had any individual endorsements at the time of retirement,” says Neerav Tomar, managing director and chief executive of IOS Sports & Entertainment. But adman and founder of Genesis Film Production, Prahlad Kakkar argues, “It is unfair to say that Sehwag does not have potential after retirement. Just like a gladiator gradually becomes a mentor for the new players in the ring, a cricketer of his stature could also be a valuable asset as a mentor,” he said.
Kakkar cites the example of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. In both the cases, a distinct persona was projected that would last even after the cricketer left the field. While Dravid’s image as ‘The Wall’ and ‘Mr Dependable’ lends itself well to bank and automobile endorsements, Tendulkar appeals to brands looking for mass-reach.
Was brand Sehwag killed before its time because endorsers failed to read his potential? Kakkar believes that even while he was active and hitting those centuries and records, there was so much more that could be done with his brand and persona. “I remember when we did the Britannia Milk ads with him, we used his rustic persona and it worked well. He was then shown in transition to a suave man in a Mayur Suitings ad which we shot in London,” added Kakkar.
The game however does have a role to play. Dravid and Tendulkar have seen their endorsement offers and fees dip after retirement. Besides as Tomar adds, there is a right time to retire. “Take Dravid for example. The two commanded a similar sum as annual brand endorsement fees. But Dravid announced his retirement when he was in the squad. Dravid still endorses Gillette,” he explains.
In the end, a combination of factors led to the slide. His inconsistent form, his off-field personality, mismanagement by his brand team and the emergence of more media friendly young cricketers like MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli meant that despite a successful career, Sehwag never broke into the big league of endorsers. “Sehwag’s biggest deal would have been at Rs 3 crore a year and that too would be a one-off. At the time, Dhoni was already getting close to Rs 6-7 crore a year. He also was never named captain like Sourav who at his peak earned Rs 5-6 crore a year in brand endorsements. And once the youngsters came into the limelight, he did not have much of a chance,” says a sports brand manager who has worked closely with cricketers. But those writing him off, post retirement, ought to exercise caution for unpredictability is Sehwag’s middle name.
Tomar agrees that with players like Kohli coming to the fore, brands would have found Sehwag a less lucrative choice. Apart from on-field consistency, brands look at off-field traits like mass connect, especially with the youth, and visibility on various platforms.