Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli can’t seem to stop himself from smashing his way up the international score charts. Not just on the field, but off it as well. This time, he has gained the distinction of becoming the only Indian sportsperson to feature in the top 10 of the 2019 “Rich List" of sports personalities, who’re active on Instagram, as tracked by HopperHQ, a scheduling tool for social media that issued the rankings. He is at No. 9, ahead of the likes of FC Barcelona striker Luis Suarez, Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and mixed martial arts superstar Conor McGregor. That is impressive, given that the list is dominated by footballers, whose sport is far more popular worldwide than cricket. On top is Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, followed by Brazil’s Neymar Jr and Argentina’s Lionel Messi. Overall, across all fields of celebrityhood, Kohli is ranked 23rd, making him the second Indian—after Priyanka Chopra, ranked 19th—to feature on the chart for this year.
That there are big bucks to be raked in simply by posting something for a fee is not news, but the numbers cited by HopperHQ are eye-popping. The tool estimates Kohli’s “cost per post" at $196,000, or about ₹1.35 crore. In comparison, a commercial post on Instagram by Suarez, one rank below, would cost $184,000. Something put up online by Ronaldo on his account would cost an advertiser nearly a million dollars—$975,000, to be precise, if the tool’s information is accurate. What’s interesting is that the rates are roughly proportional to audience sizes on the platform. Kohli has 36 million followers, a number that advertisers can hardly be expected to resist in an age of media fragmentation. Ronaldo boasts of an audience of 176 million, and his post value is proportionately higher. That most of Kohli’s fans are likely to be Indian appears to have no bearing whatsoever on the rates cited by HopperHQ, unlike advertising rates for mass media vehicles like TV channels and newspapers, which earn a lot less per viewer, or reader, in India than their counterparts do in the West. At one level, this parity could be explained by social media being a global phenomenon, with every eyeball valued more or less equally by advertisers, regardless of country-to-country differences in disposable income. At another, a message on a celebrity’s personal account is in an entirely different league than one on TV or in a newspaper. The intimacy of the endorsement could be what the premium is for.
Given the pace at which social media penetration is deepening in our country, it may not be a surprise if the online earnings of cricketers begin to exceed what they make doing regular advertisements commissioned by ad agencies on behalf of corporate clients. Instagram, of course, is not the only social media platform that could earn an avid user money. Virender Sehwag, a former member of the Indian cricket team, has taken to Twitter in a big way and garnered an audience large enough to monetize. The opportunity is not just vast, it dispenses with the rigmarole of having to spend time and effort on an ad shoot organized by a regular agency. Kohli is arguably better placed than most other Indians to maximize online earnings. With the Instagram pitch working in his favour, he sure looks set for another blazing innings.