Home / Industry / Media /  Virat Kohli | Captain of his money

Mumbai: Virat Kohli, often referred to as the new king of Indian cricket after Mahendra Singh Dhoni retired from Test cricket, is known for his spirited leadership and aggressiveness on the field. His popularity extends to social media as well—Kohli has over 9 million followers on Twitter.

In the 2015 Forbes India Celebrity 100 list released in December, based on entertainment-related earnings and fame, Kohli was ranked seventh with yearly earnings of 104.78 crore. He was described as the current poster boy of Indian cricket and was the only cricketer other than Dhoni (No. 4, with estimated earnings of 119.33 crore) to be placed in the top 10. Kohli’s sources of income included match fees, endorsements, Indian Premier League (IPL) deals and contracts from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

UK magazine SportsPro rated the 27-year-old as the second most marketable athlete in the world in 2014. Does it mean he has an advantage over others? “I personally do not think that a cricketer has an advantage over others. It all boils down to how hard you work with what you have in you and how much you can push your own boundaries to achieve your goal," Kohli said in an email interview before leaving for the India-Australia series that started on 12 January.

“I get to learn so much from my peers and my coaches every day about the game. So, it doesn’t make me feel that it is an advantage; instead, I feel it is my duty as a professional cricketer who is passionate about the sport to work on my game continuously and to keep improving," he said.

While taking charge of the Indian Test team in 2014, Kohli was also putting his investments in place. The skipper of IPL’s Royal Challengers Bangalore may come across as emotional, but he is also disciplined. “He wakes up between 5am and 6am and sleeps by 10.30pm regularly. When I first spotted him, I knew that he had passion and aggression and the ability to lead. But I didn’t expect such an unprecedented rise," said Bunty Sajdeh, Kohli’s manager and chief executive officer of sports management agency Cornerstone Sports and Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.

A head for business

Just the way he seeks advice from his coach to improve his performance, Kohli prefers professional help for personal investments as well. “I am very clear about this. I am a cricketer, I love playing cricket and my foremost responsibility and job is to play cricket well. My knowledge about smart investments is restricted. Every business venture and financial investment is undertaken only after (taking) professional advice and thoroughly looking at the nitty-gritties. It makes my life and job far easier that I have a management team that supports me, looks out for me and which I can trust. It is really essential to surround yourself with the right people. A secure mindset is crucial to take you to the top and keep you at the top," said Kohli.

Are there any favourite asset classes? “Well, you don’t want me to give away my trade secrets, do you? Just kidding. There is no secret formula. It’s a combination of real estate, fixed deposits and equity. A healthy mix of these," he said.

His aggression and discipline extends to the way he is channelling investments and quietly building businesses. Over the past two years, he has been setting up a retirement basket. Kohli has ventured into six avenues—football (FC Goa), tennis (UAE Royals), wrestling (Bengaluru Yodhas), fashion (Wrogn), a chain of gyms (Chisel) and a tech start-up (Sports Convo). Kohli is a co-owner in all six, but has invested an undisclosed amount only in FC Goa. In the others, he has sweat equity.

“I, along with my management agency, have been able to build interesting platforms in different businesses. The thought is to have sustainable IPs (intellectual properties), which people identify me with—edgy clothing, fitness centres—they are a natural extension of me. I was naturally excited to explore these ideas. And it has been a great journey so far. I am learning new things about the business every day. I am glad that people have received the brands well," said Kohli. The ventures do more—they give him a sense of responsibility for “post my cricketing career", he added.

The thought of building a retirement nest comes from his awareness that the income from his cricketing career will not last forever. “He knows he will retire in 10-12 years," said Sajdeh. Though Cornerstone works closely with Kohli, the cricketer doesn’t have any ownership in the company.

Sporting extension

The ventures are in fields he has an interest in. “After cricket, football is close to his heart. He closely tracks football and is a big fan of Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo. When the Indian Super League started, he thought it was a way to leverage his passion. With names such as (Dattaraj) Salgaocar and (Shrinivas) Dempo, he decided to venture into FC Goa," said Sajdeh. Kohli is believed to hold a more-than-10% stake in the club. Other partners include Salgaocar, managing director of the V.M. Salgaocar group; Dempo, chairman of the Dempo group; and Venugopal Dhoot, chairman of Videocon Industries Ltd.

A tennis fan, Kohli is a co-owner of Dubai-based UAE Royals, a franchise that participates in the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), promoted by Mahesh Bhupathi. Wrestling club Bengaluru Yodhas, a JSW Group-owned franchise in the Pro Wrestling League, named Kohli as a co-owner in December 2015. “He (Kohli) feels there is no harm in promoting other games. He likes the sport as he watches it," said Sajdeh. A JSW Group spokesperson said, “Kohli closely follows the progress of the Yodhas along with promoting the team through physical appearances and on social media."

The tech start-up, London-based Sport Convo, is also sports based. “It was officially soft launched in December 2015. Kohli, along with (footballer) Gareth Bale, is a co-owner. Including them, we have six co-owners and £500,000 seed funding is committed. The business model is to create a core sports social network where fans can enjoy sports content. The business will be monetized via a number of verticals," said Vishal Patel, founder and managing director of the start-up. Revenue will come from traditional advertising, a video coaching feature that allows users to gain feedback from elite athletes and coaches, a subscription magazine and from the launch of a fashion and merchandise arm, he added. At present, the firm has developed an app, which is likely to be launched in two months. It is looking to raise a series A round of funding to expand operations and marketing capabilities.

Kohli’s love for fitness led to Chisel, a chain of gyms and fitness centres in 2014. “He is very particular about his fitness. He can survive on sushi. He works out regularly," said Sajdeh. The fitness chain is in collaboration with Medifit Consultancy Pvt. Ltd, a Bengaluru-based firm that provides equipment and manpower to companies on a contract basis. The brand is jointly owned by Kohli, Chisel Fitness and CSE, a sister concern of Cornerstone. “Under the Chisel brand, we are planning to launch 30 gyms in two years. As of now, there are six gyms and we plan to roll out 15 more in the next four months. We also plan to enter Dubai, Vietnam and the UAE. We are not competing with Gold’s Gym (an international chain) and the likes. We will launch tailor-made packages, technology-related launches and a clothing line soon," said Sajdeh.

Kohli also co-owns fashion brand Wrogn with Universal Sportsbiz Pvt. Ltd (USPL). The idea to enter fashion came about in 2013. “Till then, Kohli endorsed Flying Machine. One day we were having a cup of coffee and the thought occurred that why endorse a brand, why not own one instead. Virat got excited about it," said Sajdeh. USPL came with investment and Kohli collaborated in ideation. “He wears the brand in his day-to-day life and is closely involved in designing. Wrogn has a design team from the US and is based in Bengaluru," said Sajdeh.

All the businesses together are likely to bring in upward of 30 crore in revenue in the next five years, he said.

Endorsements also form a big slice of Kohli’s business pie—the cricketer endorses at least 10 brands. “We turn down more endorsements than we accept because it will not leave him with enough time," said Sajdeh. “We look at brands that will make him stand out. I wouldn’t pick a mass brand for Kohli. Underwear brands have approached him and offered a lot of money, but we have turned them down. It is the Audi kind of brand position that I want for him." Kohli endorses MRF, Pepsi, Adidas, Audi, Boost, Vicks, Clear shampoo, United Spirits, TVS Motor, entertainment company Smaaash and real estate firm Nitesh Estates.

Feet on the ground

The ventures and endorsements may be many, but Kohli says money is not everything. “My family and friends are the most important to me. Your intrinsic values and character are what shape you in life. Money adds materialistic comfort, but it’s true what they say: there are some things money can’t buy. They are priceless. Time spent with my family, my friends and my dog (a beagle called Bruno) gives me immense happiness and is above anything money can ever buy. Mone y is important in life to maintain a good standard of living for your family and children growing up. But at the same time, one should never forget his roots and should stay grounded," said Kohli.

The cricketer also runs the Virat Kohli Foundation (VKF), where his brother Vikas and Sajdeh are trustees. The foundation focuses on providing education for underprivileged children. “Initially, he used to appear for a lot of charitable organizations. But he was not sure whether the money went to the right people. So, we set up a foundation for him," said Sajdeh. “We have put a team in place and we plan to do five to six big events and several small ones to raise money. We will also roll out merchandise for the cause. The VKF website will go live in March where people can contribute to the cause directly too. As tech is the future, we have built a strong in-house tech team to manage VKF," he added.

Where does Kohli find the time for family, friends and leisure? “It is very tough. It requires a lot of effort to balance the two. Luckily, I have a family that understands me, and my profession, and supports me wholeheartedly. It is also essential to take out some personal time from all the professional commitments and connect with yourself, to relax and rejuvenate. It brings a sense of calm and composure to the fast life and allows you to not burn out," said Kohli. “Professionally and personally, I have one goal and it has been the same since I started playing cricket. All my efforts are directed towards my country and my sport. I want to do as much as I can for the country and my team. Everything I achieve in cricket is for my country. When I play for the country, I feel an immense sense of pride and passion. It is an overwhelming feeling to be standing on the 22 yards while people are cheering for your team and you. Only a few feelings are close to how happy you feel when you lift any trophy. I want to keep working hard for it every day and enjoy every moment of it too. The day I stop enjoying it, I will know it’s time to hang (up) my boots."

But the glory doesn’t come easy. There is no secret or shortcut to it, and Kohli’s mantra is hard work: “Stay true to yourself and your goal. Stay determined to what you have to achieve. Also, love what you do and do it will all honesty."

The work the Delhi-based cricketer puts in on the field and off it, and pulls off in both, is what makes him a star.

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