New Delhi: He’s the darling of marketers, endorses around 15 brands — from Adidas and Audi to Tissot and Pepsi — and in 2015 strode into the Rs 100 crore brand endorsement club, an elite league of cricketers that till then only had Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni in it. But it’s not just brands that are keeping the 27-year-old Virat Kohli busy off the pitch.
The cricketer best known for his aggressive style of batting is equally keen — if not more enthusiastic — about getting involved with businesses that suit his style. “Everything that I’m associated with at this stage is everything that syncs with me, even as a businessman,” Kohli told ET Magazine just a few days before leaving for the West Indies on a four-Test tour. And he’s clear that it requires as much focus and practice as his favourite shot on the field calls for, the cover drive.
“You can’t start something unless you can put some effort and interest into it. For my endorsements and business ventures, now and in future, it is important that they are something that I believe in and can be helpful to people in some way or the other,” he said. As far as brands go, Kohli has on occasion refused endorsements with which he couldn’t connect with at all. “You can’t just accept everything — for you’ll never be able to convince people about what you’re doing,” Kohli added.
He is a brand by himself. Globally successful sportsmen launch their own labels, and Kohli is following this trend in trying to create value for his brand that goes beyond cricket,” says Vinit Karnik, business head, ESP Properties, a sports and entertainment arm of WPP’s media investment firm, GroupM. The businesses Kohli is associated with as co-owner or investor include a gym chain, a clothing line, the Dubai tennis team of the International Premier Tennis League, the Goa franchise of the Indian Super League, the JSW-owned Pro Wrestling League team, a London-based sports based social media startup and a Singapore-based startup that has launched an exclusive subscription-based fan club for Kohli.
Perhaps the most ambitious project is the fitness chain Chisel, which hopes to have 100 centres by 2018. His nose, and eye, for business notwithstanding, Kohli is, of course, guided by a celebrity management firm, Cornerstone Sport and Entertainment. “He is an influential and health-conscious sportsman who is concerned about India’s fitness and well-being.
This makes it essential to select brands that resonate with his personal values,” says Cornerstone CEO Amit Sajdeh. With most of his ventures focused on sports, fitness or lifestyle, Kohli explains that it is important for him as a celebrity with a huge fan following to understand the influence he has as well as his responsibility towards his fans. “We need a sports culture in India and that’s what I’m trying to create with sports other than cricket as well. I want to help other sports in whatever way I can; that’s what a sporting culture is all about and that’s what we are trying to do in India.”
Apart from the strategic reasoning and business acumen necessary for making any sound investment, Kohli also takes into consideration how a deal will affect the people at large, Sajdeh points out. And that is clearly the case with Chisel Fitness.
“The mid- to high-end gyms that we are setting up across the country are aspirational and obviously, connect well to a top athlete with high fitness benchmarks. No surprise that Kohli is hands-on with this venture,” says Gaurav Marya, chairman of Franchise India, Chisel’s commercial and marketing partner. Kohli is also a stakeholder — an active one, to boot — in Stepathlon Kids, a pedometer-based, mass participation race for children.
“This is something that rings an alarm straight away. People are not doing anything about motivating kids to do something physical and that’s why I decided to come on board,” says Kohli. Stepathlon is also a good example of the confluence of Kohli’s business interests and altruistic motives — after all, Kohli’s brand aura among kids will go a long way in influencing them to track their steps using the pedometers that they have been given. For Ravi Krishnan, co-founder & CEO, Stepathlon Lifestyle, Kohli was the first and only choice as brand ambassador. “He has been through a fitness and health journey and believes in it,” says Krishnan.
Similarly, Singapore-based PrivyPlex has partnered with Kohli to launch its subscription-based fan club. “As the most talked about Indian sports star on social media, he was our obvious choice to kick off our Virat FanBox product,” says Ahmed Arab, co-founder, Privy-Plex. Kohli is a business partner of the company.
Kohli, who insists that at heart he’s still that guy who was playing club cricket on the maidans of West Delhi, believes the secret of his popularity is his authenticity. “I’m not shy of showing my emotions; everyone knows that and that’s why they connect with me.” Emotion and earnings, however, don’t always go hand in hand, and if Kohli can successfully marry the two, he would have broken new ground yet again.