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Saina Nehwal’s brand value set to soar with World No. 1 title

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Soon after being crowned with the international title of World No. 1 badminton player, Indian shuttler Saina Nehwal went on to bag her maiden India Open Super Series title by defeating former world champion Ratchanok Intaton from Thailand.

The two titles have indeed placed the Hisar born player on the global map as the game receives its due in the country. A swell up of her performances is also likely to contribute to her existing brand value, say sports marketers and celebrity marketers. However, not without adding a word of caution. Nehwal will have to continue with her existing pace to command a fat paycheck in the endorsement world.

While prior to her consecutive wins, Nehwal commanded a price of Rs 70 lakh- 80 lakh for a one period deal according to industry experts, it could now easily touch up to Rs 1 crore–Rs 1.5 crore depending on how deep the brand’s pockets are.

Celebrity and sports management firm, CAA KWAN COO Indranil Das Blah says that it is not just becoming the World Number one but also winning the Indian Open, which is a pinnacle no Indian born woman has achieved. “If you look at the current crop of female sports persons, there is no one remotely close to her in terms of achievement. So it will have a significant impact on her brand value, pricing and overall brand image,” he says.

According to Blah, Nehwal has a strong story to tell because of her middle class back ground and therefore brands with a pan India appeal would latch on to her. “I don’t see her endorsing glamorous and niche brands but it could be brands that have a national interest and look at achieving women’s empowerment or women’s issues in the country,” he opines.

Nehwal currently endorses and has been a part of brands across segments like Yonex, Fortune Cooking Oil, Indian Overseas Bank, Whisper sanitary napkins, Emami Fast Relief ointment, Herbalife health products, Top Ramen Noodles and Airtel 3G.

According to media reports, Nehwal was signed by the telecom Airtel when she was world number three for less than Rs 1 crore. She had then won the Gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

Asset managing director at assetfzc.com Sanjay M Lal, a veteran with over 20 years of expertise in the field of brand building and sports management, says that in order to have a reasonably impactful brand value, Nehwal will have to maintain her present status for the next nine to 12 months. “While she has been consistently performing and is a star in Indian badminton, but to be world number one is a different ball game altogether,” informs Lal.

For brands that are fence sitters and were wondering to choose between female sports persons like Sania Mirza or Saina Nehwal, the wins will make it easier to settle and close the deal for Nehwal. However, some feel that the cash jump will not be very significant unless a large brand that has not matured comes into play. This will be the first step for Nehwal on the brand value chain.

Impact of her win on the game? Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) CEO and former captain of Indian Hockey team Viren Rasquinha states that OGQ has been supporting the champion since 2009 and looked after the training aspect of Saina Nehwal. “Obviously its important to have  a role model and a great figure like Saina in every field. Because of her acheivement we hope that thousands of parents across the country will encourage  their kids, especilally their daughters to take to badminton.”

Eureka Mobile Advertising senior vice president Viswanathan Ganapathy says, “There will definitely be a jump in the brand value. In the last few years, she has given global recognition to the game, which has happened after Prakash Padukone in 1980. Saina is a very good mix for an international and local brands as well and would be an ideal fit for a fitness product.”

Ganapathy is of the opinion that Nehwal could ideally endorse brands like Complan and Horlicks, where the brand fit is perfect. Her consistent winning performances including the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics could make her as a relevant face for insurance brands too.

It is important to note that when sports athletes and players sign an endorsement deal, they also ask the brand the kind of visibility they would gain. While Nehwal has placed Indian badminton on the global map, the domination of cricket continues as former cricket players like Kapil Dev still bag endorsement deals. It’s akin to how an industry expert, having worked with the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan and was associated with Percept India, puts it, “Anything other than cricket is like a great Bollywood movie breaking even. But it will not belong to the Rs 100 crore club that the Khans belong to. She was signed with Herbal Life, which is American brand but what have they advertised? For a player other than in the field of cricket, you need an advertiser who gives you Rs 5 lakhs but does promotions worth of Rs 50 lakhs.”

When the visibility falls flat, it goes against the marketing grain of celebrities. However, on an optimistic note, Lal adds that her winning titles consistently have proved that brand ‘Saina Nehwal’ holds great promise. Only time will tell the brands that will sign Nehwal for her promise in the future. For now, take a breather girl. You deserve it and thank you for giving India its due recognition.

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