He is one of the highest paid athletes in
the world, one of the most famous athletes
in the world and among the 100 most influential
people in the world.
We are not talking about LeBron James or Cristiano
Ronaldo – but Virat Kohli.
For a country of over one billion people,
picking an idol doesn’t get any easier.
Virat Kolhi is the captain of the Indian cricket
He dates a famous actress, speaks like a statesman
and parties like a rockstar.
And he is widely acknowledged as the best
batsman in the world.
While Kohli is destined to have his name alongside
cricketing legends, he is the first to be
among the highest earning athletes worldwide.
To assess the value of Kohli, it’s worth
noting that most of India’s cricket crazed
1.3 billion inhabitants know him.
For comparison, hardly 800 million people
live in Europe, and North and South America
combined are home to roughly 1 billion people,
still less than India alone.
So what is it that makes Virat Kohli one of
India’s biggest celebrities?
Celebrities are often worshipped as heroes.
But nowhere is it remotely on the same scale
as in India.
All throughout Indian history people have
been placed on pedestals and elevated to demigod
While in the past this adulation was reserved
for kings, it has now trickled into other
parts of Indian society and culture.
Unlike most earlier Indian cricketers who
preferred to let their bat do the talking,
Virat Kolhi is not the one to shy away from
confrontations on the field or at press conferences.
He has built a reputation for never standing
down and not giving an inch on the field.
As stated in The Telegraph, those steeped
in the ‘traditions’ of cricket and the
spirit of the game may be aghast at his behavior,
but he finds approval for his actions in a
Cricket players do not get a salary anywhere
close to that of athletes in domestic leagues
like for instance the NBA or Premier League.
This is because they represent their national
team for the majority of the year and most
domestic tournaments run for barely over a
These leagues are lucrative, but the wages
are adjusted for the short duration.
In sports like football, the domestic league
is played throughout the year and players’
primary salary is paid by clubs, not national
So it makes perfect sense that no cricket
player is on the Forbes List of Top 100 highest
That is no cricket player except for Virat
He is by far the highest paid cricket player
with a total annual earning of 26 million
which dwarfs all of his other colleagues.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) was the brainchild
of an Indian Businessman.
After studying in the US and being exposed
to the wild popularity and unique cultural
position basketball held there, he returned
to India and modelled a cricket tournament
along the lines of the NBA which was unheard
of in the traditionalist sport of cricket.
IPL launched in 2008 and immediately became
a phenomenon in India.
The only people who challenge cricket players
for God like status in India, are those from
And IPL, married the two.
Many of India’s biggest celebrities from actors
like Shahrukh Khan and Preity Zinta to India’s
richest man Mukesh Ambani seemingly made a
beeline for buying team franchises.
The IPL now has the second highest average
attendance for any league across any sport
anywhere in the world and Virat Kohli is its
highest paid player.
And yet despite the almost two and a half
(2.4) million dollars from the IPL and a previously
unprecedented bumper contract with the National
team, less than 9 percent of his annual earnings
comes from his salary.
The only athlete in the Forbes top 10 with
more than 90 percent of earnings coming from
endorsements is Roger Federer.
So what makes Virat Kolhi so marketable?
Mukesh Ambani and Jio
A part of the reason behind Kohli’s immense
popularity is that he is way more accessible
than any of the previous generation’s stars.
And this is largely down to India’s richest
man Mukesh Ambani launching a telecom company
called Reliance Jio in 2016.
It offered free mobile data to everyone for
6 months and exceptional low prices after
As a result, data prices from their competitors
plunged in response.
Coupled with the explosion of cheap chinese
smartphones in the Indian market, this led
to a whole new wave of Indians on the internet
for the first time.
Millions of new Indian facebook and instagram
accounts were created in the first few months
after Jio’s launch.
The timing of this coincided with Kohli’s
A huge number of people began streaming his
matches from their phone, which meant more
people were seeing him at his best.
Now, they could even follow up on him post
game from his regular social media updates
Everybody wanted a piece of him and it wasn’t
long before half the nation knew everything
about him from his favourite food to his toilet
Subsequently, it was revealed that amongst
the hottest keywords from Internet searches
were Reliance Jio and Virat Kohli.
Kohli is now the most followed Indian on Instagram
and reportedly earns over 350,000 dollars
for a single tweet.
The manicured beard, six pack abs and a bad
boy attitude quickly garnered him an almost
religious young female fan following.
This was uncharted territory for Indian cricketers
who were usually known only for their cricketing
With this, Kohli began transitioning from
national sportstar to celebrity much the way
David Bekham did.
However the similarities with Beckham don’t
Kohli cemented the cross-over when he began
dating the beautiful Bollywood star, Anushka
Their marriage was a huge event in India and
their relationship ensured magazines always
had a permanent stream of news to write about
him, even when he wasn’t on the cricket pitch.
Virat Kohli’s brand is built carefully by
his superstar agent Bunty Sajdeh.
Bunty, or Jerry as Virat calls him after Tom
Cruise’s character in Jerry Maguire, has complete
freedom about everything Virat does off the
He can be viewed as the Indian version of
Mino Raiola and represents a long list of
Indian sports superstars.
He handles everything about his players’
image from the apparel they wear to their
social media posts using a data driven model
to identify target audiences and demographics.
A quick glance at the companies that Kohli
endorses shows us exactly what audience he
We primarily see names like Puma, Google Duo,
Uber, Tissot, Audi and Phillips.
These are companies that exclusively target
the urban Indian population and that is exactly
the market that the brand Kohli is going after.
His own athleisure brand ‘One 8’ in collaboration
with Puma is set to release a whole collection
of urban and youth centric apparel, footwear
and equipment that he hopes will grow in the
same vein as the Jordan brand.
We can classify almost the entire list of
companies he has endorsed and invested in
under one “urban youth centric” category.
Underneath this umbrella, we see three clear
segments – Fashion, Health & Fitness and Sports.
Let’s take a deeper look at this to understand
how Bunty has delivered on his promise of
showing Virat the money.
In 2017, Kohli stopped endorsing Adidas, and
signed with Puma.
It was the largest ever endorsement deal for
an Indian sportsman with a single brand.
This can be attributed to Puma agreeing to
launch Kohli’s own signature line, One8,
after his jersey number 18.
The move paid off for both, with Kohli getting
close to 150 million dollars from it.
Puma says its association with him led to
10% of its sales in India in 2019 along with
an overall 23 percent revenue growth.
He is also the co-creator of a youth fashion
brand called Wrogn and is constantly seen
on advertisements for an ethnic wear brand
called Maanyavar with his wife.
Kohli changed the nature of the cricket team’s
approach to fitness with his own transformation.
He went on a vegan diet and completely revamped
his workout routine.
And his marketing team makes sure that his
physical fitness is always associated with
Kohli caused a huge stir when he dropped Pepsico
as his sponsor for not being in line with
his new healthy lifestyle.
He is now the face of India’s most popular
energy and nutrition drink, Boost.
In 2015, he invested close to 12 million dollars
in setting up a new line of gyms in tier 1
Indian cities called Chisel.
After seeing the success of IPL and the popularity
it garnered from the younger generation, a
whole bunch of copycat leagues in different
sports began cropping up all over India.
Kohli promptly invested in some of them like
a team in India’s domestic wrestling league
and even in the now defunct Tennis team UAE
royals captained by Roger Federer.
The teams he owns are all very strategic investments
and follow the same pattern.
For example, FC Goa, one of the teams he co-owns,
is a part of India’s football league.
Football and the Indian Super League have
a largely young audience in India.
On top of this Goa is a state that is known
for its beaches and young party goers.
One cannot help but notice the same characteristic
features again and again that are ingrained
into every thing he does – something sporty,
healthy or fashionable for a young urban audience.
He makes sure to only work with partners that
suit his brand image and not accept every
offer he is given.
This clarity has worked well for him and built
a strong credibility.
An article in the scroll captured Indian’s
love for Kohli quite simply by saying “It’s
easy to see why Kohli is so popular in India.
He is the best cricketer in a country that
adores the game and its stars.
He is a fitness and style icon.
He dates a famous Bollywood actress.
He talks like a statesman and parties like
He is what every youngster in India aspires
While in India Kohli seems to only be getting
bigger and bigger, it remains to be seen if
Kohli can break the confines of the limited
global appeal for Cricket outside the Commonwealth
nations and transition into a truly global