• Andy Marston

Bat sponsors have helped Indian cricketers score big. Could they help other sports score bigger?

For decades, Indian cricketers have embraced a commercial opportunity to further monetise their prize asset: their bats. Why can’t other sports follow suit?

It’s not uncommon for athletes to earn contracts with equipment manufacturers. The process is beneficial to both parties – the player gets income and equipment, while the manufacturer gets advertisement.

For decades, this was the norm for cricketers, too. However, that all changed when Kapil Dev signed a contract with Power in the late 1980s. The legendary all-rounder was paid a hefty sum for using their logo on his bats and the association went on to have a profound effect on the bat-manufacturing industry.

As a result, the most popular players would instead sign two contracts – one with the equipment manufacturer and another with a sticker sponsor. This has led to non-endemic brands, such as MRF Tyres, becoming a household name across the sport - particularly in India.

Previously sponsors of Sachin Tendulkar, the tyre manufacturer signed an eight-year deal with India captain Virat Kohli in 2017, worth an estimated Rs 100 crore ($1.36m). Similarly, CEAT tyres sponsor Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, and Hero Motocorp Ravichandran Ashwin.

With athletes facing financial challenges after a drop-off in endorsement deals as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and The Athletic reporting a declining interest from boot manufacturers to partner with footballers – new commercial opportunities must be sought out across the sporting world.

Indian cricketers and their bat sponsors may provide one of the more interesting solutions to solving this issue. Notwithstanding each sport’s own regulatory codes, could we see a similar philosophy implemented elsewhere? Tyre-branded football boots, a tech-company replacing a basketball manufacturer, or a mobile esports platform creating an apparel brand to win a kit contract…?