Anglian Medal Hunt Company (www.anglianmedalhunt.com)

Past life

Maneesh Bahuguna, the chief executive officer of the Anglian Medal Hunt Company (AMHC) is a former IRS officer, and was the managing director of Goa State Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd. For over two decades, he was involved with tax administration and infrastructure, before a common friend introduced him to Sandeep Narang, chairperson of the New Delhi-based investment firm Anglian Omega Group, which runs several businesses.

Narang had just begun a sports management company in 2012 and had invested in an Indian football club, and Bahuguna pitched an idea for a start-up in the field of Olympic sports development. A life-long sports enthusiast, Bahuguna wanted to tap into the commercial potential of a growing interest in Olympic sports in India. The same year, he took voluntary retirement and immersed himself in the start-up, trying to figure out just how the company would operate.

Eureka moment

Maneesh Bahuguna with shooter Anisa Sayyed, a Commonwealth Games medallist. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Maneesh Bahuguna with shooter Anisa Sayyed, a Commonwealth Games medallist. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Sandeep Narang wanted do something similar in India, and in 2012, he invested in the Shillong Lajong FC team.

“We did research across multiple cities in India that convinced us Indian football would pick up sooner rather than later," Narang says. “We were well connected with global investors who were asking about what was happening in Indian football, so we knew there was global interest as well. So we took a measured risk."

Narang was willing to take this measured risk in Olympic sports as well, sold on the fact that there was no one else doing what Bahuguna proposed to do: a for-profit company that would invest in Olympic athletes, and then manage their endorsements and branding. There were non-profits working in the field (such as Lakshya and Olympic Gold Quest), but for a sustained, large-scale push to develop Olympic sports, Bahuguna felt commercialization was an absolute necessity.

“It was very risky," says Bahuguna. “Our idea was to invest in the athletes, give them the best possible facilities and access to global best practices. Now if two-three of our athletes win medals at the Rio Olympics (in 2016), then their brand value opens up, and we take their brand to the market, and that becomes our revenue stream. So we were betting on future prospects."

Genesis

“The first thing that struck me there was just how many of our athletes had inexplicable mental breakdowns," says Bahuguna. “Then there was the lack of preparation from the support team surrounding the athletes."

For example, when there was a draw for boxers on the second day of the Olympics, the Indian boxers knew nothing about their opponents.

“We had no strategies," Bahuguna says. “We had not watched videos of potential opponents, we did not know their styles, weaknesses, strengths." After the Olympics, Bahuguna started making regular visits to the Olympic training centre (Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports) in Patiala, Punjab. The first two athletes he wanted to sign were the young boxer, Shiva Thapa, and the race walker, K.T. Irfan.

“It took many visits before they were convinced, before their coaches were convinced that we would not interfere with their training programme," says Bahuguna.

Once those two had come on board in January 2013, the AHMC quickly started picking up more athletes—by the end of the year, they had 33 names on their roster, most of them very young and promising, as well as a couple of well-known veterans, like the trap shooter Ronjan Sodhi.

The next step was to sign unknown juniors, catching them right in the critical development stage. “It was a very interesting process," says Bahuguna. “We travelled around the country, met lots of athletes, coaches, went to academies, schools, colleges." At the Eklavya Athletics Academy, a sports school in the tribal belt near Nashik, Bahuguna and his team of scouts were so impressed by some of the middle-distance runners that they signed up four girls and one boy on the spot.

“Athletics is the final frontier at the Olympics," says Bahuguna. “It is the most romantic of all events. Just think of Usain Bolt, or Michael Johnson. India’s athletics is very poor, but there is no lack of talent. We have very strong 800m runners. Our first track medal will come from 800m. Maybe even in Rio," adds Bahuguna.

All of AHMC’s athletes receive mind-training, sessions with nutritionists and physiotherapists, cash stipends, kits and food supplements. In addition to this, the junior athletes are also put in national camps: the AHMC requests the Sports Authority of India (SAI), proves that the athlete is not a misfit at that level, and pays the SAI a subsidized fee (to allow the athlete to train at their elite-level national camp, which is otherwise meant only for the national team). Anything from 10-20 lakh is spent in a year on each of the senior athletes, depending on their requirements, and 3-4 lakh on each of the eight junior athletes on AHMC’s roster.

“We were happy to just invest, and not think of a revenue stream till 2016," Bahuguna says. “But there has been a change. Companies have already started contacting us. We were able to make five corporate deals. Shiva, for example, is already very popular in the North-East, and United Colors of Benetton (UCB) wanted him as their brand ambassador there. So now we have a sponsorship deal for Shiva, and UCB also gives us apparel and merchandise for all our athletes." On an average, the AHMC takes a 10% cut from these deals.

Reality check

The lack of structure around the athlete is the biggest hurdle. “They are sent into battle without bullets," says Bahuguna. Working with and around the established but misfiring government set-up for Olympic sports keeps Bahuguna and his team on their toes.

Keeping athletes motivated is another issue. “Many of our athletes come from disadvantaged backgrounds," says Bahuguna. “They are desperate for financial security, for which you cannot blame them. Now these athletes, when they reach the national level, or win at the Commonwealth Games, they will get a job in a PSU (public sector unit), cash awards, perhaps even an Arjuna Award. When this happens, the motivation drops massively—I can’t even begin to describe the drop. We have to break that barrier."

Secret sauce

“Even Usain Bolt needs someone to network for him and manage his brand," Bahuguna says. India’s Olympic athletes have never had professional brand and marketing management. As a result, many athletes sign any deal that comes their way. “They preempt themselves because there is so much insecurity about money and no understanding of the market," Bahuguna says. AHMC’s USP is to strike the right deals for the athletes, network for them, and work at improving the brand value of the athlete.

The various companies under the Anglian brand also make things easier—the AHMC can pick the talent, resources and brains of all its sister concerns, allowing them to stay small and focused (they have 15 employees), while enjoying the benefits of a much larger company.

Plan B

There is no Plan B.

Close