With Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag announcing their retirement from cricket, we explore the transition from sportsman to entrepreneur for our young heroes. By Nandini Kumar
IN 2009, cricketers Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma starred in a commercial in which they ponder, “Jab tak balla chal raha hai tat chal raha hai… Jab balla nahi chalega toh phir…” (until the willow wields success, all is great; but what happens when the success comes to an end?). Ironically, this campaign for an insurance company in many ways underlines the uncertain careers of cricketers. Things can go horribly wrong for those who are dropped from the national squads and worse for those who realise that they will never get a call-up again.
This was the case with Sehwag, arguably India’s best opening batsman, who announced his retirement on Tuesday in an emotional statement. Only a week ago, his compatriot and one of the greatest Indian pacers, Zaheer Khan turned his back on the game, too. Incidentally, the two will not have to worry about making a living post retirement when the bucks from contracts and endorsements dry up. For they have already sampled the joys of entrepreneurship, with Sehwag opening an educational institution in Jhajjar, Haryana, called Sehwag International School (considered number two in the state) while Khan has invested in a chain of fitness clubs — ProSport Fitness. “The good thing about owning a business is that it helps players switch off from the game for some time when not on the field, and for those who are saying goodbye, they know there is something else to look forward to,” says Khan. Sharing plans to open his fifth restaurant — Zaheer Khan Fine Dine and Toss — in Pune by the end of the month, he says he will look at other options to expand his fitness club. He is also open to investing in startups, but is yet to be approached. “I would love to do something with regards to implementation of technology during monitoring and training before matches,” he admits, revealing his intention to keep up with the game.
Thankfully, cricketers today don’t rely on pension funds accorded to them by the BCCI or news channels’ talk-show royalty money. Instead, they plan smart, and are ahead of their game much before they hang up their boots. Take Virat Kohli for instance. The Test skipper for India and one of the most celebrated cricketers in the country today, recently invested Rs.90 crore with Chisel Fitness to launch over 75 centres across the country in the next three years. The brand is jointly owned by Kohli, Chisel Fitness and the sister concern of Cornerstone Sport & Entertainment, which is the agency that manages Kohli. Earlier, Kohli also had a minority stake valued at under Rs.1 crore a year in the FC Goa franchise, where he was the co-owner. However, the prolific batsman had been contemplating a foray into the business of fitness, especially after India’s most successful skipper MS Dhoni launched his line of gyms, SportsFit World Private Ltd. “Fitness and good health are extremely important to lead a happy and successful life and I am proud to contribute to this industry, which is becoming increasingly important for all of us today,” Kohli says about his association with Chisel Fitness, the Bengaluru-based startup.
In November last year, Kohli also launched a clothing brand WROGN, along with serial entrepreneur Anjana Reddy. The objective was to create a ‘make in India’ apparel brand with an international appeal. “With the energy that India now exudes on the global stage, we roped in Virat Kohli to be an intrinsic part of WROGN. It is a break-away youth brand which is inspired by his distinctive sense of style,” she says.
“It is very important for young cricketers to learn early on that stardom is not forever and endorsements don’t last a lifetime, which means they need to plan an alternate source of income, and invest wisely to create a recurring, risk-free second income,” explains Dheeraj Shetty, founder of Ethos Wealth Management, who has cricketers and other celebrity sportsmen as his clients. Shetty insists that cricketers invest with quality promoters with good business models, revenue sources and execution plans. “They need to keep in mind working capital planning and management and profit after taxes before venturing into something new. Just blindly putting their money in a luxury apartment just because a fellow teammate owns one is an absolute no-no,” Shetty adds.
Food, gyms and fashion
These lessons on careful investment were learnt early on by swashbuckling Kolkata Knight Riders’ batsman Robin Uthappa. His first ambitious venture, the Bat n Ball Inn, a hotel and café in Bengaluru, which he opened along with Kerala pacer S Sreesanth unfortunately had to shut shop only months into its opening. Today, he has invested (Rs.1 crore) wisely in an online food start-up, iTiffin, which is co-founded by three others, including Tapan Kumar Das, the former vice president of Flipkart. Uthappa recalls what it is like to be bestowed with a million bucks via IPL contracts at a young age when a cricketer knows nothing about investments. “I had never seen a crore of rupees in my life. I was only 22 when I was bought by Mumbai Indians for Rs.3.2 crores and the money was overwhelming. I had no clue what to do with it. I could only think of property, a luxury car or something that multiplies it,” he explains.
Another Karnataka mate, India pacer Vinay Kumar also opened a futuristic gym called RVK Game Ready with an investment of `1 crore soon after he made an impressive appearance in the National squad’s bowling line-up. The multi-speciality sports training and fitness centre was meant to be on the lines of the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru. “The motto of the venture was to build champions, to assist sports people across the country—be it cricketers, golfers, tennis players or badminton players—in their training, apart from normal people,” Kumar says. But only a year into its opening, the centre has been taken over by Kohli’s Chisel Fitness at an undisclosed financial understanding.
Early this year, India pacer Umesh Yadav ventured into business for the first time with a Kolkata-based online fashion location search portal called Fashionove, that allows shoppers to search for fashion stores and boutiques nearby. “What attracted me was this unique idea that cuts through the clutter of e-commerce and offers comprehensive information about fashion destinations,’ he says about his interest in the industry. “I found the team, including founders Sharad Kumar and Tanushree Khandelwal, extremely focussed. Although I do not interfere in their work, they regularly update me and I am happy with their progress,” he says. Fashionove has over 800 boutiques from Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai and is planning to enter cities in the South soon.
The master plan
Current players are taking on unique business ideas, but the bigwigs in cricket set the ball rolling. In October 2011, legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar who was still playing international cricket at the time, bought stakes in a celebrity merchandise and brand extension company called Universal Sportsbiz Pvt Ltd (USPL) conceptualised by entrepreneur Anjana Reddy. “More often than not, people celebrated their favourite team by wearing merchandise. Whether it was a Chicago Bulls cap or a (Chicago) White Sox jersey, the whole stadium atmosphere was recreated in the dorm lounge during games. I thought, why can’t we do this in India where cricket is religion?” Reddy says, speaking of her experience back in the US where she pursued her postgraduate degree in accounting and finance. She approached Tendulkar with her idea and the cricketer agreed to invest in her start-up. “For a lot of celebrities it is not that much about the money; it’s whether they trust you to launch their product and create a brand for them,” she says. And while Tendulkar is a minority shareholder in the company, Reddy insists that he is committed to the venture. ”We have a mutually beneficial revenue sharing arrangement with the celebrities,” she says.
As for Zaheer Khan, it has been a year since he launched his dream project, ProSport, in Mumbai. Set up with an initial investment of around `3 crore, the centre focusses on muscle conditioning, physiotherapy, customised exercises and injury management. “Although I was already in the hospitality sector with my restaurants, set up with my brother Anees, ProSport has been there in my mind ever since I started suffering a series of injuries during the 2003-2004 season. I realised the importance of proper injury management, and that is what we try to focus on at ProSport,” he says. With trainers like Adrian Le Roux and Andrew Leipus, both of whom who have worked with the national team, ProSport recently roped in pilates expert Yasmin Karachiwala and is set to expand to cities like Nashik and Pune. ‘‘If there is anything that cricket has taught me, it is the importance of defining roles in a team and filling in for those who cannot perform on their bad days. This philosophy has been vital for the success of ProSport,’’ he says. And what will he miss the most after retirement? “Seeing off bowlers on the pitch after taking their wickets!” he smiles.
|Money spinnersSuresh Raina
The stylish middle order batsman is the co-owner of UP hockey franchise called Uttar Pradesh Wizards along with Sahara Group and is only the second cricketer to be associated with the Hockey India League (HIL).
Mahendra Singh Dhoni
— With inputs from Karan Pillai