Sanga Screwed the business of cricket, and made it alot harder for the classy cricketer of the future

Less about his good looks and cricket, more about using him to make money

Full disclosure. I’m not a sports guy. I don’t play sports. Nor have I ever have. I don’t follow sports. none of it. I don’t care about the game. However, I think sports is a fantastic way to make money, and the idea of sports as a business is fascinating. I’d love to get into the “sports industry”- aka using people who toss balls around to make money- because sometimes, that’s what it really comes down to.

This was one of those ideas that comes to you when stuck on the baseline road for nearly 30 minutes (That road is the greatest source of inspiration for me). I was recalling a conversation with my colleague Adeesha, who questioned Sanga’s ethics, with him promoting Anlene (a product whose claims are questionable) and Prima Stella noodles to school kids *rolls eyes*. I then started thinking about everything that led Sanga to selling instant-ramen.

Making money out of tossing balls

Business happens where there are people. Where buyers and sellers meet- this is called a market. When a lot of people gather in a physical (and now digital) location, sellers come too thereby making a market. This is why you have hawker stalls outside temples, at beaches whatnot. People gathering = let’s make money.

Sports brings together a lot of people. Alot. I don’t need to cite numbers. The business of sport used to be — ticket sales and selling food and fizzy drinks. Then came in the big guys. The advertising companies. “Hey look, alot of people are watching the game, maybe if we put up a picture of our fizzy drink, more people are likely to buy it — since alotta people are watching it”. I’m not sure if fizzy drinks were the first to be advertised, but you get the idea.

And to this day, sponsorships drive to large part the “monetization” of sports. Take any sport, any league and you’ll see sponsorships. From the Nikes to Rolexes, to that little kade selling ‘gal-bunis’ everyone has an athlete’s face somewhere.

Market Size Matters

The market size is big enough…

So, since sponsorships/advertising a large part of the monetization of the sport, the market size matters. (But niruban, sports make a lot of money through broadcasting rights etc- wait. broadcasters pay fat money because fatter brands want to advertise during broadcast. Advertising baby. Advertising makes the ball go round)

Coming to Sanga. Our national treasure. Jawline of the century. Thousands fall at his stubble. Real nice guy. What an advertising asset. Let’s monetize him.

But before we get to the disaster in monetizing Sanga, let’s look at the monetization of other star athletes. Sure, they may do crappy ads, but the big ones, are backed by big, premium-product companies. Basketball guys- expensive Nike shoes. Tennis players — Luxury swiss watch brands. Pro Golfers — Credit Card companies. Sure, these athletes may have taken money from crappy companies to sell low value products, but most of the big money is around big brands. It makes sense, because these athletes cover the market for the big brands. The athlete takes the brand to the “market” with the right “size”.

The Ad that decided my buying decision, 10 years before I purchased it.

(I have only one credit card. my first card. the only reason I took it is because When I was in my teens, I saw a billboard, with an athlete named Tiger, saying “my life, my card”. That’s all I ever needed. Don’t plan on getting any other card, at least for the moment)

Sri Lankan athletes however have a little problem. Our market size is small. really small. Especially for the likes of big premium brands. Cricket players in particular are a bit tricky because, the next best market to monetize them — where they literally worship cricket players- hates us, and to make things worse have their own star cricketers.

Even if a big brand like Tissot or Rolex had money to throw, they wouldn’t buy a star like Sanga, purely because the market he covers (at least for now) is not a big market for the brand.

One Man’s trash is another man’s treasure

So if Sri Lanka as a market is not big enough for big brands to invest into their local stars who can Sri Lankan athletes promote? FMCGs. Soap. Shampoo. Dairy Products. Telecom Companies (they’re fast-moving-consumer-services — FMCS).

And it’s hard to argue, that most Sri Lankan cricketers do in fact get their sponsorships from brands in these categories. And that’s fine. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. The brands thrive, cricketers make money, and the industry is now somewhat profitable. Profitable enough for young people to throw away the best years of their life at the chances of getting into the national team.

But why Sanga. To me, Sanga is a fine economic asset. In-fact, too fine to leave him to low-cost, price-competitive, homogeneous sectors like FMCG or Telcos.

He’s got the looks. He’s got the english. He’s as close as any Sri Lankan will get,to Sean Connery. He’s the human embodiment of a rare bottle of fine whiskey.

And we just paired that whiskey with a parata (pita bread’s lankan cousin) and bitthara hodhi (egg-curry)

Selling Veggies, Malted drinks and Instant Ramen

I used to play cricket. Now I promote grocery stores…

Think of Sanga, Think of an Ad he’s in. You’ll probably think his face plastered over every keells outlet (with his wife. again, huge asset. They could’ve been our local JayZ and QueenB). Then you think of that awkard ad where he says something to the effect of how Prima Stella noodles makes kids play better cricket or something. And then his ad for Viva or Horlicks (I can’t remember). Same thing. And his famous ad with him switching over to Airtel *shudder*

Some people say (some. not everyone. I’m not sure if i hang out with cricket fans with the right taste) that he’s the best thing since don bradman (i don’t know who this guy is either, except my principal used to talk about this guy alot). If he is, I ask you WHY IS HE SELLING FRESH VEGGIES AT THE SUPERMARKET?!?!?!

I don’t know who to blame. Sanga? or the Marketeers? (I’d like to blame the Lankan Marketeers) I’m thinking Sanga doesn’t give two hoots about what he promotes. He loves his cricket. He’s made a ton of money with it. He really doesn’t care about Nestomalt or Noodles. And I don’t blame him (entirely) for taking up on these crappy brands. He’s not a businessman, he’s a cricketer and lawyer at best.

Sanga is a lost opportunity of creating, truly world class, premium, exclusive brands. And we don’t see anyone in the pitch, who has his level of charisma and stature. And even if we do, he’ll have to work alot harder to move up the low-bar Sanga has set for Sri Lanka’s “finest” (like fine wine. not necesarily in terms of his skill at the sport) cricketer.

Five Premium Businesses you could launch using Sanga. Right now.

The mistake marketers did was to wrongly assume that Sanga’s appeal is limited to Sri Lanka only. If he had the right sponsor, he could have become a much much bigger icon for class and style. (He again, made things harder by signing up with that shitty shirt brand- emarald or something)

If I realised this sooner, I would have started/promoted one of these five businesses using Sanga.

  1. A boutique investment fund for sports & real estate
  2. A curated boutique hotel chain, with rare cricket memorabilia. (think cricket club, think a whole bunch of cricket-club-like luxury hotels, around all major cricket playing nations. Bonus if it is close to a major stadium)
  3. A premium whiskey label, personally crafted by Sanga (George Clooney did it)
  4. A high-end tea brand (Dilmah is onto it. If they can only wash away the sins he committed with Viva or Horlicks or whatever the hell it is)
  5. I dunno, premium leather macbook cases?

The point is, the bar is quite low -aka cheap- in terms of the brands that are willing to come on board to take use of a local cricket star and turn him into a money-making-machine.

The Golden Years are still ahead

See that. signs of grey hair. magic stubble. Aging like fine wine.

Here’s the good news. Sanga is only 39. Freaking perfect. He’s going to enter golden age, where he will age like fine wine. The perfect age bracket to turn him into the next Sean Connery or George Clooney. If someone just stops him from selling veggies and on crappy adverts for NTB bank, and turns him into an ambassador for fine things, we’re going to hit gold.

I just hope Dilmah will do a good job with him. Dilmah has good clout abroad, and they’re planning on passing the “face of the brand” mantle from the founder to Sanga (that’s what I heard when one of the owners spoke at an event). If Sanga can see the potential the brand holds, to turn him into a global icon, he’d do a whole lot of good to himself and cricketers in general.

But why niruban? why do we have to fuss about what brands sponsor Sanga? why? Shouldn’t be about the love of sport and whatnot.

Let me put it this way. What would you rather see on TV ?

Or this?

That’s not fair. You can’t compare Nike to a local company like Prima.

I can’t. But with companies like Prima taking our top athletes, there’s no way we’ll ever get to that point where we’d get that sweet Nike Ad for SL cricket.

or even this

So is big-media, big-advertising good for sports? bad? I think that’s another debate altogether.

So what do you think? ready to start that fine-rich-people-as-customers business with Sanga’s face on it? disagree with me because I called him stupid? Are you a marketeer for Viva or Horlicks or whatever the hell it is, who got offended?

I’m always up for a conversation :) if you’re a twitter person, I’m @p413life or drop a comment below