Troubled boxing star Vijender Singh has an annual brand value of Rs 1.5 crore in endorsements, and his managers are in a tizzy trying to limit damage from the drug controvesy that the star boxer is embroiled in. Several international brands are reportedly pondering over their "commercial relationship" with the Olympian.
Percept India, which has managed Vijender for close to four years now, are on a sticky wicket because the boxer's alleged involvement with drugs has come at the worst time. The financial year has just begun and companies discuss and tie-up much of their big spends on marketing at this time - the first quarter or Q1. This includes deciding on and signing up "faces" to endorse their products.
But the sports management company is wearing a brave face, pinning its hopes on the fact that there is no case yet against Vijender, who has been accused by the Punjab Police of buying and using heroin. The boxer has denied the allegations.
Hitesh Gossain, vice-president, Percept India, told NDTV.com in an exclusive chat on the phone today that Vijender, who endorses brands like Nike, Mountain Dew and Nestle, is "much wanted" among non-cricket faces and is high on the list of "youth icons."
"We seek an early closure of the case because that will give us the impetus to push Vijender to sponsors," Mr Gossain said insisting that Vijender remains a top attraction because "he is the face of real India," and has a "great value" unlike "commercial faces."
Apart from endorsing products like sports shoes and drinks, Vijender was also the face of the Indian boxing squad supported by Indian poultry giants, Venky's before the London Olympics held in July-August 2012. According to Mr Gossain, all the boxers "endorsement deals" are now finished and "extensions" are subject to renewal.
"In the life of a celebrity there are ups and downs. While brands do their internal check-ups, a lot of active discussions around Vijender's endorsements are alive and it's too early to pull out because there is still no case against him," the Perecpt official explained, adding that Vijender's relationship does not end at endorsements which can be both "long-term" and "short-term."
A substantial amount of revenue is also earned from appearances on reality shows like Nach Baliye (with Bipasha Basu) and Salman Khan's 10 Ka Dum (with Mallika Sherawat).
Middleweight (75 kg) star Vijender, according to his brand managers, will continue to excite sponsors. They point out that a lot of international sportspersons have had a brush with drugs and controversy; Vijender, an Olympic medalist and a Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awardee, they say, hasn't been accused of using drugs to enhance his performance.
"So ethically, as a sportsperson, you can't nail him. The sponsors understand this and it's too early to say Vijender's tenure as Indian boxing's pin-up boy is over," said an upbeat Gossain.
In recent times, international superstars Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong have been on the wrong side of big-spending corporates for their alleged misdemeanors.
According to CNBC, Woods personally lost around $23 million dollars worth of endorsements due to his extramarital affair, in 2010 alone. Confidential documents from Woods' management company, IMG, shows they lost $4.6 million. Managers typically take 15-20% of their client's income, hence the $23 million figure.