The Business of Virat Kohli – How Free Internet Fueled His Rise

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

team.

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

status.

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

vast majority.

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

month.

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

authorities.

So it makes perfect sense that no cricket

player is on the Forbes List of Top 100 highest

paid athletes.

That is no cricket player except for Virat

Kolhi.

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

Bollywood.

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

that.

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

form.

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

and interviews.

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

schedule.

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

ability.

With this, Kohli began transitioning from

national sportstar to celebrity much the way

David Bekham did.

However the similarities with Beckham don’t

end there.

Kohli cemented the cross-over when he began

dating the beautiful Bollywood star, Anushka

Sharma.

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

field.

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

targets.

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

his name.

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

a rockstar.

He is what every youngster in India aspires

to be.”

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

personality.