What’s the story?
Srikanth Kidambi scripted history to clinch his second Super Series title in a row as he defeated Chen Long in straight games to lift the Australian Open trophy. It was Srikanth’s third consecutive Super Series final, something that had been done by only five male shuttlers before him, and he dispatched the reigning Olympic champion to cap off what has been a memorable few weeks for him.
Men’s badminton in India has seen a spectacular surge in results in recent times but an issue remains regarding their star value and corporate sponsorships received by the male shuttlers. Srikanth has just two endorsement deals to his name, which includes his equipment sponsor Yonex, while on the other hand, India’s two badminton queens Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu have multiple deals from a wide umbrella of top brands.
Harish Bijoor, a renowned brand and business strategist said, “The marketers are cruel and they need to be cruel. They will like a player but they will not invest unless returns are guaranteed. It’s not just badminton, there are bigger icons in chess, billiards but no acceptability in the market.”
He added, “Sindhu and Saina have acceptability because their performance has good conversion numbers for the commercial market. These two girls pull the crowd to the stadiums and add to TV ratings.”
In case you didn’t know
India’s men shuttlers have had a great run recently clinching three Super Series titles this year. Sai Praneeth won the Singapore SS along with the Thailand Open GP Gold and HS Prannoy hit the headlines with a fantastic run in the Indonesia Open that saw him defeat Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long in succession.
Srikanth won titles in Indonesia and Australia, both of which included two stunning victories against reigning world number one Son Wan Ho.
The heart of the matter
Earlier this month, three male shuttlers entered the top 15 of the BWF rankings just for the second time with Ajay Jayaram, Srikanth and Praneeth occupying the 13th-15th spots, indicating the progress made by the male players.
There are only two women in the top 40 of the rankings – Saina and Sindhu, but both enjoy great corporate backing and endorsement deals from top brands. Saina is sponsored by Sahara, Top Ramen, Herbalife, Fortune, Honor etc., while Sindhu is backed by Myntra, Moov, Bank of Baroda, Nokia and Gatorade, among others.
Srikanth, on the other hand, recently signed a multi-year deal with Bank of Baroda as well, his second after Yonex and the equipment-maker is the sole sponsor for Praneeth and Prannoy has well, who are yet to be backed by any corporate entity despite shining on the sport’s biggest stage.
One hopes that this recent run should catapult the players from merely top athletes to sporting icons, which will enable them to secure more commercial deals.
It is disappointing that the male shuttlers, for all their recent successes, are not treated at par with their female counterparts. But, we hope that in the coming time, we will see a change in the trend.