Thursday, May 1, 2008

Sporting encounter:Today’s player,tomorrow’s star

Sporting encounter:Today’s player,tomorrow’s star

GloboSport’s Anirban Follows His Love And Sets Up A Market Leader

FOR an entrepreneur in waiting, inspiration can come from just about anywhere. For sports lover Anirban Das Blah, it came in the form of the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire, starring Tom Cruise as a struggling sport agent with a struggling sportsman as his lone client. It eventually set him on the path to sports management business. “You will either be an entrepreneur by your mid-20s or after the age of 40,” Mr Das says, recalling those days when he decided to take the plunge at the age of 26.

Mr Das had returned to India from a stint with Ericsson Telecom in Sweden and was looking for the next opportunity, when he had a chance meeting with tennis star Mahesh Bhupathi at a boutique advertisement agency in Bangalore. The two got talking and their ideas converged on the possibility of a talent management firm. Mr Das joined Mr Bhupathi’s new venture, GloboSport, betting that sport and entertainment endorsement will become a major business in a country, where action was hotting up in both fields.

Today, GloboSport has evolved into a diversified company with endorsement management for celebrities, events, new media, sports and academies. It is a leader in most of its chosen businesses.

“I’ve always loved sport, and all sports lovers, who have seen Jerry Maguire, have always envied Tom Cruise’s job,” Mr Das says. He had to grapple with his priorities and the urge to start on his own. “The opportunity rarely comes across and people are afraid to take the plunge, to take that financial hit or a leap of faith. Especially, when you are young and you’ve tasted success.”

Having taken it up, Mr Das and his colleagues didn’t find the going easy. The team had little experience in business, let alone the business of sport. Pundits looked at them and wondered what Mr Bhupathi was up to. “At the end of two years, we hadn’t achieved too much, but we had a better sense of where the market was headed,” Mr Das says.

The first turning point came when cricketer Zaheer Khan signed up GloboSport. The fledgling firm didn’t have a long client list and had not yet got big deals, but Khan put his faith behind it. This was just the auspicious beginning the firm was waiting for. Soon, more and more sports personalities signed up and the business began to expand. One of GloboSport’s early clients was the then lesser-known tennis player, Sania Mirza. She had not yet become a star and it was up to GloboSport to manage the endorsements of a player ranked 140th in the world.

And that proved to be the second turning point. When Sania Mirza started winning tournaments and a country of one billion people started following her and her game, GloboSport’s day of glory arrived. With every notch that she moved up, the endorsement value exploded and there has been no looking back since then.

“Three things came together at end of 2004 and the start of 2005. One of the first calls Mahesh and I took was to move into entertainment and not just be a pure sports play. We, at that point, could not afford the big players, and hence we ended up signing on obscure domestic and junior players,” Mr Das says. The move proved successful and today, the company’s client list has extended to Saif Ali Khan, the third busiest endorsing celebrity in Bollywood.

The five-year old company today has an estimated billing of Rs 200 crore and is in a phase of transition. At the end of the day, celebrity endorsement is not scalable beyond a point and a company needs new avenues. GloboSport is now moving into film production, leveraging on the celebrity relationships it already has. Building original content is one of its game plans for the future. It also has a sports infrastructure business, which it is extending to retail with plans to open fitness and health centres.

Article Resource:
Author: Sonali Krishna is the Chief Editor in the The Economic Times, Mumbai and the article appeared in one of their successful columns on Entrepreneurship/Start-ups called "Starship Enterprise".

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