Sunil Gavaskar was the first Indian athlete to become a major brand. His legendary career, in which he became the first man in history to score 10,000 Test runs and break Don Bradman’s record of 29 Test centuries, ran parallel to the first years of television in India. This made cricketers more famous and marketable than before.
Gavaskar, a self-aware and well-read man who knew what his stature was, and how well international athletes earned through endorsements, became India’s Pele, endorsing not just cricket equipment but also a shaving cream, cola, a fashion label, among other things.
Remarkably, at the age of 72, Gavaskar has set yet another milestone. He has entered the NFT space. Fans can own a virtual piece of his career, or meet him at exclusive events, for prices ranging from the affordable ($35) to the premium.
On the morning of October 28, having allowed himself a slice of brun-maska (Mumbai style crusty bread and butter) and sipping on a cuppa, the former Indian captain spoke about the development with Moneycontrol.
Not many people fully understand how NFTs work. What is your concept of it?
My understanding of it is that it’s where I can share a part of me with those who have been my well-wishers over the years. I still get letters, birthday (July 10) cards etc. In fact, till yesterday, I was acknowledging some of the birthday greetings I had received. That’s been one way of thanking fans for all their good wishes. Now this is another way, the digital way, the current way, of trying to thank them.
Is there a commercial angle to this? Do the proceeds come back to you?
Proceeds will be shared between Nftie (the company Gavaskar is working with on the NFTs) and me, but a percentage will go to a charity foundation. Definitely, there’s a commercial consideration.
How did you decide to take the NFT route?
I read about the first tweet of the Twitter CEO (Jack Dorsey) being sold as an NFT. That’s how my interest was piqued. Then I read about some of the basketball stars from the NBA coming up with this (NFTs). When I was in England recently for the World Test Championship, Nftie approached me and asked if I would be interested.
Do you feel NFTs are financial opportunities for athletes as well as buyers?
Absolutely. Over the years with the geographical distance, I have not been able to connect with a fan from Kolkata or a fan from Andhra Pradesh or Chennai except via letters or the occasional call. Here is an opportunity to connect a little more directly, a little more on a regular basis maybe. Yes, I also think it’s a financial opportunity, for the fan also in case he wants to sell the NFT later on.
Do you have plans for your physical memorabilia?
Most of it is at my parents’ place in Pune. My father had made a beautiful showcase where the first bat I used in Test cricket is there, the trophies I got on my first tour and various other mementoes that I got are there. I haven’t as yet been able to find a key for that showcase, because when my father passed away, no one knew where the key was. And now my mother being 96, she is staying with me, so there is nobody in that apartment. If I can get the key, or access the showcase in some way, then we will see. Because that is very dear to me, my first ever bat, etc. I’d like to keep that with me for sure.
From the standpoint of today’s world and its innovations such as NFTs, how do you look back at collectibles from earlier eras such as the Thums Up flicker?
The flicker was something unique, wasn’t it? I still meet a lot of people who were growing up at that stage and who still talk to me about it. There was one of me and they had a Kapil Dev flicker as well, of him bowling. It was unique, and I believe that the NFT collection is also going to be unique, in as much as it’s something that hasn’t happened before.
What is your approach to business and investments? Are you conservative mixed with a bit of bold? You did set up your own company even when you were playing (Professional Management Group) and are now the first Indian sportsperson in the NFT space?
Business-wise, I’m very conservative because you know how Maharashtrians are generally (laughs). I say ‘generally’, because there are some outstanding Maharashtrian businesspersons. Believing in the old FDs (fixed deposits) etc, that’s how I was brought up.
As far as the business aspect is concerned, Sumedh Shah, who was my partner at PMG, (sadly he passed away a month ago), and even Raju Mehta and Shubhangi Kulkarni at Sunny Sports... I made it very clear to them that my ambitions were on the cricket field. So if they wanted to develop the business, they had to be ambitious. Use my name by all means, use my contacts, that was my outlook.
Additionally, I think to a great extent, it was about being in the right place at the right time. With TV commentary also, it was opening up from just being a Doordarshan affair. I’d just retired, and a couple of years down the road cable television came in and I got this opportunity. It became a second career for me.
Is there an NFT you would like to own outside of cricket?Yes, yes. I would like to own the NFT of Nelson Mandela’s first step out of jail.