All those ‘Leftovers’

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Despite their small share in sports advertising, boxers and wrestlers are doing well, says Tanya Dua

Illustration: Samia Singh

IN CRICKET country India, wrestlers and boxers have few takers — and those few don’t have much cash. In April, for instance, a study by Indian advertising and marketing agencies showed that cricket, golf and tennis (in that order) cornered nearly 95 percent of the Rs 300 crore advertising pie. What remained went to other sports.

Yet, considering that a majority of India’s medal-winning wrestlers and boxers come from rural backgrounds, they seem to be happy with what they get.

For instance with the backing of Percept, a sports management firm, Vijender Singh and his fellow boxers Suranjoy Singh, Jai Bhagwan, Dinesh Kumar and Balwinder Baniwal recently landed a $1 million sponsorship deal with the Monnet Steel Group. Vijender already endorses Nike, Siyaram Suitings and other smaller brands.

The boxer’s media interviews and frequent appearances in television reality shows like Dus Ka Dum, Tere Mere Beech Meinand — most recently — his selection as a jury member in the Pantaloons Femina Miss India 2010, have not just further swelled his kitty, but also landed him a lead role in a film. But of course, had he been a cricketer, this would’ve merely been the beginning.

“Though some brands do seek wrestlers and boxers, overall, Indian advertising looks for sportspersons with bigger mass appeal,” says Gullu Sen, Vice- Chairman and Creative Head, Dentsu India. “The small-town success story does wonders only for the movies. All in the loop know about the new ‘chocolate boy’ of the modelling world, boxer Vijender Singh, who appears to be an exception.”

Cricketers take nearly 85 percent of the Rs 300 crore advertising pie 

When there is so much money floating around, a few thousand dollars can begin to look like small change. “In the Indian mindset, cricket is the game that spells success,” says Kolkata Knight Riders marketing head Joy Bhattacharya. He was echoing what has been often repeated, most memorably by Canadian economist and humorist Stephen Butler Leacock, who once famously wrote: “Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.”

But let others crib, Vijender himself remains upbeat. Endorsing products, he says, helps him to put himself and his sport in the limelight. Meanwhile, Infinity Optimal Solutions (which got Vijender one of his first endorsements with Bajaj Allianz) is now trying to find support for wrestler Sushil Kumar before the Commonwealth Games kick off. Helped along by Sahara, it has managed brands like Bodyfuelz and Eicher Tractors.

Remarks veteran adman and filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar: “Visibility is all important in a business like this. Cricketers will dominate the show because they have the dual advantage of being featured while playing and on the news channels off the ground. A wrestler, boxer or racquet player does not have that advantage.”

So the thing to do is to keep playing the game. Keep being seen.

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