How Virat Kohli got the WROGN right for Sachin Tendulkar's business

Photo: PTI
In this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL 2018), the brand name WROGN was unmissable on Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB)'s team apparel. India and RCB captain Virat Kohli is the ambassador of clothing brand WROGN, having been signed to endorse it in 2015. But even as Kohli and the IPL team he leads are lending their brand value to WROGN (and vice-versa), Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar too is invested in it. In many ways, the fortunes of WROGN endorsed by Kohli are tied to the future performance of Sachin’s own investments in Universal Sportsbiz (USPL), which owns WROGN. And by the look of it, WROGN has been the reason for the tremendous increase Universal Sportsbiz’s revenue since it was incorporated in 2015. That should mean good news for Sachin’s investment in a company whose biggest name is Virat Kohli.

The brand WROGN is owned by Universal Sportsbiz, a Bengaluru-based company in which Sachin Tendulkar became one of the earliest investors, picking up 21 per cent for an unknown amount in 2013, within a year of the company’s incorporation in 2012. The biggest shareholder and owner of the company, Anjana Reddy, belongs to the family that owns the Deccan Chronicle group, which had earlier owned the IPL team Deccan Chargers before the Kalanithi Maran-led Sun group took it over and rechristened it Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2012. The other shareholders in Universal Sportsbiz are Accel Partners, which holds preference share in the company. Accel India III Mauritius Ltd has 99.97 per cent preference shares, bought in 2015. Accel is an American venture capital firm that also invested in major startup companies such as Flipkart and Facebook.

This is one rare instance of a symbiotic business relationship between two of the highest profile current and former cricketers. In fact, Tendulkar’s role is so prominent in the company that special business clauses have been included in the firm’s articles of association to differentiate Tendulkar’s business interests in Universal Sportsbiz. The company’s amended article of association was reviewed by Business Standard. The article of association especially use the word, “Sachin”, “Sachin’s Consent” and “Sachin’s Business Matters”. The clause in effect absolves Tendulkar of any responsibility in case of any financial and legal troubles. It has special provisions to protect Sachin's reputation that may be adversely affected by Universal Sportsbiz's business decisions.  

Meanwhile, Kohli’s performance on the cricket field reached new heights in subsequent years after a dismal tour of England in 2014. During the December 2014 tour of Australia, Kohli was appointed as a skipper of Indian Test Cricket Team after Dhoni’s retirement. This worked wonders for Kohli and his performance on the field improved as he struck four centuries down under. But his overall performance was below par, given that in the 20 ODIs and nine Tests he played in 2015, Kohli scored 623 runs with an average of 36.64 in ODIs while in test he scored 620 runs with an average 42.66, which is much lower than his career average of 58.10 in ODIs and 53.40 in Tests. While in the IPL of 2015 he scored 505 runs in 16 matches with an average of 45.90.

So was Tendulkar instrumental in getting Kohli to endorse the WROGN brand owned by Universal Sportsbiz in 2015? “I am sure Sachin, who has been an early investor in USPL, must have put in a good word!” Anjana Reddy, CEO of USPL told Business Standard.

Tendulkar’s involvement in getting Kohli as brand ambassador of WROGN seems to have pay paid big dividends for Universal Sportsbiz. Since its incorporation, it had clocked revenues of Rs 47.9 million till 2014. But when Kohli began endorsing WROGN, things suddenly brightened up for Reddy and Tendulkar’s business. In 2014-15, Universal Sportsbiz’s revenues jumped to Rs 230.9 million. In the subsequent year, the revenues tripled to Rs 609 million. In 2016-17, the revenues further jumped to Rs 1,075 million. But this sharp jump hasn't translated into profit for Universal Sportsbiz as in year 2016-17, the company had lost Rs 278.8 million.

The rise in the revenues of Universal Sportsbiz was concomitant with rise of Kohli as a brand. It seems as Kohli’s brand value grew, so did the revenues of Universal Sportsbiz. “Virat has definitely been a big force multiplier for WROGN. We are the fastest growing celebrity fashion line brand in the country and command a unique position in the minds of our target audience,” Anjana Reddy told Business Standard. In 2015, brand Virat Kohli ranked 4th among the list of top 100 celebrities in India. Kohli's brand value increased exponentially with his performance as, according to the Duff & Phelps, his ranking improved to by two positions. In 2016 he was valued $92.5 million while it was in 2017 that he grabbed pole position with a brand value of $144 million. The RCB brand value also jumped from $67 million in 2016 to $88 million in 2017.

The Universal Sportsbiz bet on Virat Kohli will help them reap good benefits in the future as well, given the current form and standard he has set on the cricket field.
Anjana Reddy, CEO, Universal Sportsbiz (USPL)
Interview with Anjana Reddy, CEO, United Sportsbiz Private Limited (USPL)

1) WROGN has been featured prominently in this year's IPL. What positive impact do you see of this visibility on the financial performance of Universal Sportsbiz?

WROGN has always been a brand that has been bold and youth centric in its marketing campaigns. Given the success of our previous campaigns such as “Be Your own Hero” or “Find your cause” or “May the best you win” - we have always intrinsically connected with the youth at a deeper level. IPL is a very youth centric platform and hence it ties in nicely to the overall brand trajectory of WROGN at a national level. The visibility for the brand and connect with its target audience nationally across multiple media is what has encouraged us to be associated with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. The video series “Wrogn in 60 seconds” was an exciting new addition to this year and we have received very good traction for the same. In fact, this year we extended USPL’s association with Imara being the first women’s wear brand to be associated with an IPL team ever. 

 2) How has having Virat Kohli as your brand ambassador helped over the years? When did he come on board? 

Virat has been an integral part of WROGN since its inception in 2015. He embodies its core values and has a strong youth connect. WROGN has always been bold to take a stand on larger issues and Virat has not shied away from taking it head on. If you remember the “Be your own Hero” campaign - it actually showed Virat tearing down his own posters and encouraging the youth to be their own hero. It was refreshing and different from what other brands were doing. Similarly, if you observe the “Find your cause” campaign - it gave a shout out to youth to find their inner purpose and champion a cause. All these initiatives were actively promoted by Virat as he truly believes in the brand and the stand it takes on issues around us. The #betterthanequal campaign on Womens Day and the message by Virat on issues around women abuse has truly made #WROGN one of the most exciting and breakaway youth fashion brands in the country today. 

3) What impact has Kohli had on the brand value of Universal Sportsbiz?

Virat has definitely been a big force multiplier for WROGN. We are the fastest growing celebrity fashion line brand in the country and command a unique position in the minds of our target audience.   

4) Did Sachin have a role to play in getting Virat Kohli on board? 

I have known Virat & Bunty Sajdeh since 2012, when we had signed him for Merchandise & Memorabilia. We approached Virat & Cornerstone with our plans for Wrogn. He had the same thoughts so there was an immediate alignment of building a strong youth centric fashion brand. I am sure Sachin, who has been an early investor in USPL, must have put in a good word!

5) How involved is Sachin Tendulkar in the management and business decisions of Universal Sportsbiz? 

Sachin has been an early investor in USPL, however, there is a professional management team at USPL which takes care of all strategic and tactical decisions that are needed to be taken to run the company effectively. All these decisions are effectively taken by this team.

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