Cola wars may pit Tendulkar against Dhoni

Thursday, 23 December 2010 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

New Delhi: Beverage maker Coca-Cola is in talks to rope in Sachin Tendulkar for an endorsement deal ahead of the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup, laying the pitch for a high-profile off-field battle between the star batsman and his captain, MS Dhoni , who will lead PepsiCo’s campaign.

“Coke is very keen to have Tendulkar on board,” a celebrity management official familiar with the events told ET. This was confirmed by an industry executive, but both clarified that no contract has been signed yet between Coca-Cola and the cricketer.

It could be a short-term deal, they said. Coca-Cola and sports management firm World Sport Group (WSG), which represents Tendulkar, declined to confirm or deny the talks.

“We are always in discussions with any number of leading celebrities with regard to their support of our brands and initiatives, but we only announce formal agreements after they are signed,” a Coca-Cola India spokesman said.

Harish Krishnamachar, senior VP (South Asia) of WSG, said, “We are not in a position to discuss commercial terms for Sachin. Once a sponsor is signed, we will let our client announce it.”

The ICC World Cup, which kicks off in February, is a high-stakes event for marketers across sectors, particularly for soft-drink makers coming as it does at the onset of the peak summer season.

India, where cricket and cricketers leave all other sports and athletes miles behind in popularity and celebrity status, is co-hosting the world cup with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

PepsiCo, one of ICC’s global sponsors, is planning a high-pitched campaign featuring Dhoni, who has replaced Tendulkar as the most valuable cricketer and commands more endorsement fee than the master batsman, during the event.

It has already roped in ad agency Taproot exclusively for the world cup campaign. Interestingly, Tendulkar was with PepsiCo for close to a decade before the beverages firm dropped him two years ago on grounds that it wanted younger stars for endorsements.

But the Little Master, playing what could be his last world cup, is still immensely popular and is playing near his peak, having scored the first — and so far only — double century in a one day international. He will desperately want to do well in the event and lift his first world cup on April 2.

Coca-Cola can bet on him to ensure PepsiCo does not walk away with all the gains at the world cup — perhaps the largest event for marketers.

But getting him on board may not be easy. According to media reports, Tendulkar recently refused a lucrative offer to endorse a liquor brand, which would have been the highest-ever deal for an Indian sportsperson.

Earlier this month, Dhoni signed the highest endorsement deal for a sportsperson — a three-year deal with Vijay Mallya’s United Breweries group for Rs 26 crore. And, within days, he renewed his existing endorsement deal with Maxx Mobile for seven years valued at Rs 29 crore.

Tendulkar endorses close to 14 brands, including ITC’s Sunfeast, Adidas, luxury Swiss watch maker Audemars Piguet, Canon, Aviva Life Insurance, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and appliances major Toshiba. He charges about $1 million per year per deal.

Coca-Cola has in-form opening batsman Gautam Gambhir for endorsements and it sponsors IPL team Delhi Daredevils.