It was an absolute pleasure for me to have a chat with none other than the original Little Master of cricket, Mr. Sunil Gavaskar during the Tie Global Summit at Dubai Exhibition Centre. However, this time around we discussed more about his entrepreneurial journey than his cricketing career.
Indian cricketers have endorsed products for decades. But perhaps the first player to realize the importance of sustained monetization in a player’s life was Little Master Sunil Gavaskar. Gavaskar not only branded himself gainfully during his playing days but also beyond. In 1985, when he was 36 and in the last phase of his career, he founded Professional Management Group (PMG), a sports marketing company, with advertising professional Sumedh Shah, a pioneer in India to successfully establish the
synergy between sports, business & communications.
My very first question to him was about how did he think of starting a concept that was unheard of in India at that time. He mentioned that it all when Sumedh Shah proposed him a brand endorsement and asked for his fees, he wasn’t sure what to say. To which Sumedh Shah said that “Being a captain of the team if you don’t know what to charge then you don’t know what your value is”. The later then explained to him that about International Management Group started by Mark McCormack who were managing golfers like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and would do negotiations with the brands on their behalf. This idea struck a chord with him and that’s how he started the Professional Management Group with Sumedh Shah.
The group burnt their fingers in the first project itself, that involved securing contracts for the Swedish Davis Cup who were touring India a few months later. The team included three players among the top 10 in the international rankings of the Association of Tennis Professionals - Mats Wilander, Anders Jarryd and Stefan Edberg. He added "Abroad, these players would charge a quarter of a million dollars to wear a wrist band. We had managed to get them for peanuts at a lakh and a half” But the response was
cold. Numerous rounds of advertising agencies only brought ignorant responses such as: 'Is McEnroe
also coming?' or 'Davis Cup? Isn't Wimbledon the international tennis tournament?' Nobody was interested in the Swedes. The PMG ran into a clean loss.
They did not let this dampen their spirits, and started of thinking more ideas in terms of marketing. They realized that it would be difficult to sell any sport in India, other than cricket. So they returned to the crease and started syndicating newspaper columns, which was a new concept beginning with Gavaskar's, followed by the other big names in various sports. Even though Sunil Gavaskar is one of the top commentators today, he still writes syndicated columns.
Another first move was starting the first ever TV Show for sports, ‘Sunil Gavaskar Presents’ at a point where there was no live television coverage for sports in India. They reached out to a couple of channels which had the right to show India matches with and bought the rights. On the show he would have candid conversations with domestic as well as international players about the games being played.
His company has pioneered many firsts in the industry and Gavaskar is glad that he and his company paved the way for all the sports management companies’ in India. Quite a few of these companies are also looking after emerging talents which he feels is a great thing as this will give these emerging players the required recognition.
When I asked him how it felt that how it felt to be on the other side of the business, he added he never interfered in the negotiations.
Now at 72, he has started his third innings which is very close to his heart and to which he dedicates most of his time. The Heart to Heart Foundation which is dedicated to saving the lives of children born with congenital heart defects (CHD) by providing free pediatric cardiac surgeries in collaboration with Sai Sanjeevani Hospitals.
His signed off by advising the entrepreneurs to believe in themselves and never give up in life.