Indian skipper Virat Kohli's decision to end his captaincy of the country’s T20 team after the upcoming T20 World Cup has raised eyebrows both in the sports as well as the brand world.
Virat Kohli leads in celebrity brand ranking and endorses endorses over 40 brands including Mobile Premier League (MPL), MRF Tyres, Myntra, Puma, among others.
Consistently topping the charts, Kohli became India's most-valued celebrity for the fourth time in a row last year with a brand value of USD 237.7 million.
But without the white ball captaincy (white ball is used in T20 format), will Kohli be able to maintain his leadership in the brand world?
Brands will continue to bet on Kohli
According to Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and former Marketing Head of HP Asia, Motorola and PepsiCo India, Kohli is one of the world’s cricketing greats, and his considerable popularity and brand value won’t be diminished by his decision to relinquish the India T20 captaincy.
"His decision is likely to go down as a mature move of a cricketing superstar in the larger interest of the team. He has made a rational choice between captaincy of all three formats – and selecting to focus on test and ODIs – as a way to stay focused and more effective," Mathias added.
N Chandramouli, CEO of TRA Research, a consumer analytics and brand insights company, concurs.
"While captaincy gets the cascading impact of a team win or loss, and the captain is usually the face of the team, therefore carries benefits as well.
However, if Kohli’s personal performance on the field is consistent, then his brand value will not be impacted significantly," he said.
Kohli's performance will be key
Chandramouli also said that Kohli is unlikely to lose any endorsements due to this one reason.
"In sports, performance is a key attribute that the brand looks for. Captaincy is an added advantage, but not the only one they (brands) would consider," he added.
Aviral Jain, Managing Director, Duff & Phelps -- A Kroll Business, pointed out that brand Kohli has been built over the years because of his phenomenal on-field batting performance and ever-growing fan base.
"He added several brand endorsements in 2021, including Digit Insurance, Hyperice, Lux and Vivo."
No captaincy, less brands
While Sandeep Goyal, Chief mentor of the Indian Institute of Human Brands (IIHB) and managing director of ad agency Rediffusion agrees that performance on the field will be a key metric for brands, he did point out that in the past, cricket starts did lose out on brands when they walked away from captaincy.
"In the past 50 years, big brand deals have gone to team captains including Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli," said Goyal.
He shared ex-cricketer Sachin Tendulkar's example. "When Sachin (Tendulkar) was eased out of the captaincy, his endorsements did not see a cliff-fall but he did start losing out gradually to Rahul Dravid."
Hence, he thinks that Kohli’s currency will depreciate but it will not demonetise.
Kohli's big brand deals
In fact, the day Kohli stepped down as India’s T20 captain, Hyperice, a global wellness technology company signed a deal with Kohli as global brand ambassador and athlete investor.
Some of his previous big brand deals include the one with sports brand Puma in 2017 which was signed for Rs 110 crore for a period of eight years.
That same year he signed a deal with MRF Tyres for Rs 100 crore for eight years.
Kohli is strong on social media
While brand experts are betting on Kohli's on-field performance for him to continue with a strong presence in the endorsement space, his strong social media presence will also be key for brands.
Even when it comes to social media, Kohli has seen the highest growth in terms of number of followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram over the last three years at 35.4 percent CAGR (compound annual growth rate), according to Duff & Phelps 2020 report.
He currently has 43.6 million followers on Twitter, 154 million on Instagram and 48 million on Facebook, giving a total of 245.6 million followers across three platforms.
"His (Kohli's) social media followers have ballooned to about 250 million, almost doubling in the last two years. Given this juggernaut journey, it is unlikely that the T20 captaincy change would have any material impact on brand Kohli in the immediate term," said Jain.
This is why Mathias said that "Kohli still remains India’s most popular cricketer and choosing to keep off the captaincy of one format will not change things."
But Jain did pointed out that "we do expect the new T20I captain of the Indian cricket team to grab the attention of the media, marketers and brands, considering cricket's mass appeal in India."