EXCLUSIVE: Commercially representing MSD has been quite straightforward as we are just mere facilitators of what he carries across as a legend – Swaminathan Sankar, Manages commercial endorsements of Mahendra Singh Dhoni

In this exclusive interaction, Mr Sankar unveiled his personal experience of managing deals for MSD, CSK post-Dhoni, and much more.

The year 2023 marked a successful outing for the former Indian captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, as he managed to win yet another Indian Premier League (IPL) trophy and tied with Mumbai Indians‘ (MI) record of five titles in the tournament.

MSD emulated a similar stint on the endorsement pitch as he secured endorsement deals with some of the profound brands in 2023 – Patanjali Foods, Maxivision Super Specialty Eye Hospitals, State Bank of India, JioMart, Free Fire, Asian Footwears, Swaraj Tractors, Viacom18, and Lay’s.

On the match day, the 42-year-old might be entering the field lower down the order to finish the game but in 2023’s cricketers’ endorsement tally, he appears to be higher up the order. The man with the Midas touch didn’t just stay popular among his fans but also with brands, who still consider him a valuable endorser for their products. The CSK skipper’s endorsement portfolio ranges from established companies to new-age startups, courtesy of his likeability and relatability among different age groups.

To understand things in detail, SportsMint Media contacted Mr Swaminathan Sankar, who handles commercial partnerships for MSD. In this exclusive interaction, Mr Sankar unveiled his professional experience of managing deals for MSD, CSK post-Dhoni, and much more.

1. Which traits of MSD make him desirable for brands even more than his juniors and when he is on the last leg of his career?

MS Dhoni has managed to build and maintain a robust connection with all target and age groups throughout his career. When it comes to him, there also isn’t any language barrier. People from the South, who don’t generally idolize people outside of their mother tongue, also consider him as their own. From a four-year-old to a 70-year-old, people relate to him as he is humble, polite, calm, and composed.

In addition, screen presence, the trait that he acquired over a period, also helps him to generate interest among brands.

2. Does MSD’s composed personality and the cricketer being from Ranchi (tier 2 city) help attract endorsement opportunities from a set of traditional brands and products?

Despite being such a phenomenal cricketer and crowd favourite, he has always been a grounded man and such qualities seldom help in getting a combination. Speaking about his association with Swaraj Tractors, we found a very organic fit as he was already a customer of Swaraj and he was known to do farming. His liking towards farming grew during COVID-19 when he had time on his hands. All of the factors nourished well and an organic association was formed with Swaraj Tractors. 

Even the new age brands highly value the qualities of being humble and close to family. Similar qualities are also attributed to MS Dhoni as they align with trust, reliability, and assurance. The entire concept of a personality being grounded and coming from a small town is an interesting narrative that brands try to plug along with their products.

3. Which basic aspects and fundamentals are considered while finalizing a brand endorsement deal for MSD?

The majority of MSD’s endorsement portfolio consists of well-known brands and if a startup or visibly new company to the scene approaches, then we do a fair bit of due diligence. We need to be careful who we associate with and what kind of products they signify. We do a fair amount of examination before we shake hands with any brands.

This is the age of startups and we just can’t stay away from it but we try to be very selective before agreeing with startups. Timing of such associations is also crucial, as seldom, it doesn’t make sense for someone like MSD to get in early because that would make the brand bleed. So, the juncture at which you make him enter is very crucial and all that is being decided by our team, who do all the backend work. 

4. Do you think the brand CSK and Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be affected after MSD’s retirement? 

We aren’t in a position, at the moment, to say anything concrete about it, because Chennai Super Kings is still a team and they have achieved all of it together. It has never been a single person that has gone on to win titles. The legacy of the team is bigger than any individual, but obviously, there will be a void. MS will still be involved with the team in some capacity, so his presence won’t be missed, and the rest is yet to be seen. 

Speaking about the business side, there is uncertainty about the occurrence of events post MSD’s retirement as it majorly depends upon the market. Is the market after a current active player? as we only get to see two months of MSD every year now. But his minimum presence doesn’t have any factoring from the brands, according to the brand custodians. Whether he plays or not, is not even 5% of their concern, it’s all about his personality and the value he carries. It’s difficult to comprehend what will change once he stops playing, but we may also see an upsurge as his appearances might only be limited to brand endorsement commitments. 

5. How has your professional experience been, so far, in facilitating endorsement deals for MSD, who is the biggest brand in this country?

Commercially representing MSD has been quite uncomplicated. We are just mere facilitators of what he carries across as a legend, and we have to be a part of the legacy that he has built. One of the most admirable qualities MS carries is being himself in front of the camera and not being more than that, which can’t be replicated by many. 

Representing MS has been an emphatic professional experience, so far, and will continue facilitating fruitful opportunities for him going forward. 

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