Off the field, sportspersons hone biz skills
With cricketer Yuvraj Singh launching investment fund YouWeCan and Team India Test captain Virat Kohli announcing his involvement in gym chain Chisel, sportspersons continue to explore business options off the field. While Singh has taken the plunge for the first time, Kohli has been exploring such opportunities for quite some time.
The two sportspersons are following in the footsteps of many before them, such as cricketers Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Kapil Dev and Zaheer Khan. Tennis greats Mahesh Bhupati and Vijay Amritraj, too, have dabbled in business ventures off the court.
However, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Khan haven’t been able to replicate their on-field success in their respective business ventures. The Little Masters’ restaurant, Tendulkar’s in Mumbai, and Sourav Ganguly’s four-storied food joint Sourav’s in Kolkata were shut within three to four years of starting operations.
Sources say cricketer Harbhajan Singh had also planned to start a chain of restaurants but was unable to, as the parties involved didn’t feel the venture would be viable.
Brand managers say the primary reason for the failure of these ventures was a disconnect between the expertise of the investor (the sportsman) and business requirements. Straying from their core competency (sports) had not only led to business risks, but also resulted in brand misfit, they said.
“When you talk about a business venture, you need some knowledge about the sector you plan to enter. You might be a foodie, but that does not ensure the success of a restaurant. You need to learn the ropes of the business and that calls for some amount of expertise. All these (ventures launched by) Tendulkar, Ganguly and Zaheer Khan are examples of this,” says Indranil Das Blah, chief operating officer, CAA KWAN, a sports and celebrity management firm.
Many of Blah’s peers agree. “If you take the example of Tendulkar’s or Sourav’s or any other restaurant, there was a clear lack of planning in terms of pricing and menu. Just franchising your name to a venture will not work, no matter how famous you are. For a viable and profitable business, one needs an understanding of the dynamics of the sector,” says another sports celebrity manager, on condition of anonymity.
Tennis aces Vijay Amritraj and Mahesh Bhupati have tasted some success on this account. Both have set up sports management agencies and started tennis leagues of their own.
While Amritraj’s Champions Tennis League aims at nurturing Indian talent and giving them an opportunity to play with some of the game’s greats, Bhupati’s International Premier Tennis League has some of the leading tennis players facing off or playing on the same team.
In both cases, the sportsmen have a team of professionals helping them execute their plans.
More recently, tennis player Sania Mirza has been associated with a coaching academy, something that is within her area of expertise and provides a seamless brand fit.
Blah says for any business venture, an understanding of the investment and expected returns in the long term is a prerequisite. For this, it is obvious that the players should stick to what they know best — sports and things relating to it.
The new generation of sportspersons is looking at off-field business in a more focused manner. While M S Dhoni, Team India captain for the One-Day International and Twenty-20 formats, is associated with the India Bike Festival, his deputy in these formats, Kohli, has invested in Chisel. Both are also owners of the Indian Super League franchises — Chennai (Dhoni) and Goa (Kohli).
Bunty Sajdeh, founder and chief executive of Cornerstone Sport and Entertainment, says, “These guys are preparing for their retirement and so, are very cautious about the ventures they are trying their hands at. For instance, Kohli is trying out a bunch of different things —licensing his animated avatar, a gym chain and developing his logo, so that he knows what works and how. This way, when he retires, he not only has a nest egg but also a semi-established business he has been involved in to keep him busy.”
He adds now, the type of investment is also different. Instead of merely investing money or lending their names, sportspersons are starting to license their name/brand to potential merchandising partners. “It’s long-term play for these guys. For them, business is the operative word,” Sajdeh says.
Instead of waiting for an opportunity to come by or jumping into a partnership with an acquaintance or friend, sportspersons are now more conscious of the choices they make. They have a team that advises them on business matters, does the groundwork and research and keeps them abreast of all that is going on in the venture.