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Tendulkar is much more than a sports star in India

November 13, 2013

MUMBAI, India (AP) — The crowd milling around Wankhede Stadium daily with placards and posters of Sachin Tendulkar are a testament to cricket’s most worshipped player who is about to make his international swansong.

Tendulkar plays his world-record 200th and last test from Thursday in a hometown stadium for which tickets could have been sold 10 times over and still not satisfied demand.

His popularity reached beyond cricket’s giant stadiums long ago, especially in his India homeland.

A career combining superstar talent, virtually from the time he made his India debut at 16 in 1989, and no controversy have made the Tendulkar brand desired and irresistible to sponsors, politicians and the public in the world’s most cricket-crazed nation.

Even Amitabh Bachchan, a superstar in India’s other cherished institution, Bollywood, says Tendulkar is the country’s biggest icon.

“When you talk of Japan, you talk of cameras, when you talk of Brazil, you talk of football,” Bachchan told CNN-IBN. “When you talk about India, you suddenly think of Sachin Tendulkar. He embodies the identity of the country in many ways.”

Celebrity managers say Tendulkar’s rise in stature paralleled when the economy was opening up to the world.

“Tendulkar’s growth coincided with the emergence of the Indian economy,” celebrity management professional Indranil Das Blah told The Associated Press. “Earlier, there were (Sunil) Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and (Ravi) Shastri but Tendulkar became an icon as several big brands also got associated with him.”

The enormity of Tendulkar’s brand value first caught attention when he was signed by management company Wordtel for $7.5 million on a five-year deal in 1995. It was an unheard of amount in India at the time, and its only kept increasing over the years.

Even though India captain Mahenda Singh Dhoni was said to have overtaken Tendulkar in terms of the number and value of endorsements when he reportedly signed a $40 million deal in 2010 with a sports management company which was $6 million more than Tendulkar’s running contract, no one could compare with Tendulkar when it came to the class of sponsors and general acceptability.

Tendulkar has had deals with Coca-Cola and Pepsi (not at the same time), Toshiba, Canon, Philips, adidas and Aviva life insurance.

Blah believes Tendulkar’s appeal will not diminish after retirement.

“There could be a little vacuum when he retires but then in the West, people like Lance Armstrong, Andre Agassi and Mike Tyson remained big brands even after retirement,” Blah said.

Amid speculation on what Tendulkar will do after cricket, there are already calls from politicians and sportsmen to make him the sports minister since he is a nominated member of Parliament.

“He should become the sports minister because that will benefit Indian sports,” said wrestler Sushil Kumar, who won a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics and silver at the London Olympics. “He does not only think only about cricketers but rather respects all sportsmen equally. He has been the biggest inspiration for all of us and we are sure he will do well in that role.”

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