Kolkata: Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the charismatic captain of the Indian cricket team, has made several tough decisions (and will likely make many more) on who gets to play for the country and who doesn’t.
Now, sports agents and marketeers across India are waiting to see what Dhoni decides when his two-year contract with Bangalore-based Mindscapes Maestros Events and Sports Management Pvt. Ltd, a firm in which he has a small stake, ends in July.
Interestingly, Mindscapes has filed a case seeking damages against a former employee who started a rival firm and managed to represent Dhoni in a few endorsement deals because the cricketer’s current deal with Mindscapes isn’t exclusive.
High score: Dhoni makes Rs80 crore per year from endorsements, and the agency managing him would typically earn 10-15% of this amount. Adnan Abidi / Reuters
Dhoni declined comment for this story.
If sports management agencies are preparing to square off for a piece of Dhoni, it is because the 28-year-old, who endorses 22 brands, is the most valuable sportsman in India.
Dhoni typically charges Rs3.5-4 crore a year for each brand, according to Indranil Das Blah, formerly vice-president of Globosport India Pvt. Ltd—a sports management firm. He makes around Rs80 crore per year from endorsements, and the agency managing him would typically earn 10-15% of this amount, said Blah who quit Globosport a few months ago and is in the process of launching his own sports and enterntainment firm. “No one’s bigger than Dhoni...and it’s not like he is going away any time soon,” he added.
In 2009, Yudhajit Dutta, a former Mindscapes director, founded a separate company called Purple People Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, and represented Dhoni in some endorsement deals. The deal with Kolkata-based fastmoving consumer goods firm Emami Ltd was one such. “What matters to us is Dhoni’s signature on the agreement (and not who represents him). He and I signed it together,” said Emani’s director Aditya Agarwal.
Dutta claimed other companies wishing to sign on Dhoni are talking to him. “Dhoni’s arrangement with Mindscapes is set to end in a couple of months,” he added.
Mindscapes’ director Pratik Sen refused to comment on the ownership of his firm, but said he was confident that its contract to represent Dhoni would be extended. He added that while this contract allows Dhoni to sign deals other than those brought to him by Mindscapes, it prohibits him from entering agreements opposed by the company.
In late October, Dhoni wrote to firms with which he has endorsement contracts, confirming that Mindscapes “continues to be my sole agents and managers”. Dutta was an employee of sports and event management firm Gameplan Sports Pvt. Ltd which started representing Dhoni in 2005. Kolkata-based battery maker Exide Industries Ltd was the first to appoint him brand ambassador after he signed up with Gameplan.
“We got him for just Rs10 lakh a year for two years,” said a former Exide official who did not want to be identified. “You could say we got him really cheap, but then Dhoni hadn’t become Dhoni yet.”
At Gameplan, Dutta managed Dhoni. Over time, the two became good friends, said a former Gameplan employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In 2008, Dutta convinced Dhoni to sign up with Mindscapes. He himself became a director in the company and continued to manage Dhoni. “He was instrumental in getting Dhoni to sign the agreement with us. So we didn’t mind,” said Sen. But when Dutta launched his own firm and started representing Dhoni, Sen was having none of it.
This isn’t the first time sports management agencies are fighting over representing cricketers. In 2008, Yuvraj Singh was dragged to court by an arm of Percept Ltd—a sports management firm—over reports that he was considering a six-year Rs100 crore contract with Globosport.
Percept claimed first right of refusal and demanded that it be given a chance to match Globosport’s offer, but the Bombay high court eventually ruled that Singh need not reveal the competing offer.
Earlier, in 2003, Percept had similar issues with Sourav Ganguly and Zaheer Khan. Though Percept settled its dispute with Ganguly, it sued Khan for not renewing his contract with it. The Bombay high court, however, ruled in favour of Khan—it said Percept couldn’t force Khan to renew his contract with it.
Because brand endorsement is “in the nature of personal services”, it is impossible to legally bind a player with a contract, said Shourya Mandal, partner of law firm Fox and Mandal. “You could claim damages at best, but it is impossible to force a player to endorse brands for you.” Forcing players to renew contracts is even more difficult. “People sign sports management contracts typically for two-three years, and based on a player’s current performance and mass appeal, the terms of the new contract are decided... So, strictly speaking, you can’t call it a renewal, which makes it even more difficult for agencies to prevent players from leaving,” said Mandal.
Gouri Shah in Mumbai contributed to this story.