In the end, the announcement was devoid of any hoopla. MS Dhoni could have chosen any platform or stage for the announcement. But he chose Instagram to tell the world of the all-important decision in his typical understated way.
Knowing Dhoni, it was not unexpected. Just unlike, the Ranchi boy’s rise to stardom and growth as a brand.
Over the years, whenever he was part of a winning team, for India or CSK, he led from the front and celebrated from behind. The announcement on August 15 was not different either.
A decade and half of the brilliance, on and off the field, is now behind us. As he stamped his presence with his first One Day International century, the raw power had caught the imagination of India’s youth. The towering sixes and disdainful hitting had made him a cult figure, much to the delight of brands.
When he demolished Pakistan with a swashbuckling century in that ODI at Vizag, he had been into the team for just a few months. A new star had been born, one whom brands could ride.
By then, Indian cricket was already seeing a shift, with more players coming from outside the large cities. Hailing from small town Ranchi, MSD fit into the script perfectly.
It did not take long before, he was endorsing a slew of brands, more than teammates Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. As he endorsed dozens of brands, the finisher tag made him grow in stature despite the team having a superstar like Sachin Tendulkar.
For some, it might be debatable, but MSD was the only member of the Indian team who could make his presence felt as a sports brand even as Sachin was still around.
Leading the team to become the champion in the 2011 ICC World Cup only helped cement Brand Dhoni. He soon launched a Sportsfit gym and fitness centres across the country, which did not quite take off. The goal was to have an ambitious 200 centres opened over five years but the business did not get the traction. An apparel brand called Seven, launched later, appears to have done a little better.
If some accounts are to be believed, the biopic for MSD did much better. Played by the late Sushant Singh Rajput, the movie only added to the aura for the champion player.
Hot brand icon was silently growing into successful entrepreneur.
As MSD invested in other sports, his loyalties to Chennai grew stronger and he became a co-owner of Chennaiyin FC, a franchise that participates in the Indian Super League. He also co-owns Ranchi Rays, a hockey team that competes in India’s professional league. His association with India Cements, whose promoters own the cricket franchise CSK, has made him a revered star in Chennai and the entire state.
The man synonym with Orient PSPO had a long brand endorsement list comprising Mastercard, Netmeds, Cars24, Indian Terrain, redBus, Indian Army, Panerai, Ashok Leyland, Powerade, Snickers, Dream11, Indigo Paints, and many more.
According to Forbes, MSD was among the top 100 sports celebrities in terms of earnings. During 2016, he is reported to have earned $27 million from endorsements. Not many players can claim to have similar appeal with brands. Only $3.5 million of that sum had come from his match fee, the Board of Control for Cricket in India and India Cement’s IPL contracts.
As the swashbuckling cricketer from Ranchi hangs up his boots, the coolest head who was a hot property for brands will soon be seen only outside the cricket ground.
Virat Kohli, himself a legend, will be the first to admit that MSD’s presence will be sorely missed. Brands will echo that too.
- Ashutosh Sinha is the founder of WordWiseWeb Media. Read his weekly column on the business of sport here. He can be connected on Twitter at ashutoshsinha00