How COVID-19 affected sports stakeholders behind the scenes

Player agents, sports management firms, entrepreneurs and people at the back end are equally affected due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues and Tuhin Mishra

Tuhin Mishra, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Baseline Ventures, that started a cricket chat show on YouTube with Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues of the women's team.   -  Special Arrangement

In sport, you believe and write what you see but there are stories connecting people who are not in the limelight. They work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the community alive — either by helping the athletes bag lucrative contracts, organising sports events, managing their sponsorship deals or bridging the gap between the celebrity and the fan on social media.

The coronavirus-induced lockdown in the world of sport has affected all the stakeholders. Sportstar reached out to a few of them to understand the challenges of running the show from the back end in such nerve-wracking times.

Kolkata-based cricket agent Kaustav Lahiri is a frequent traveller. So are his clients. His expertise lies in highlighting the “unknown commodities” from Bangladesh and Afghanistan. In fact, he is certain that cricketers such as Mohammad Saifuddin, Qais Ahmad and Naveen-ul-Haq will rule the roost in the next two years.

At present, he is hoping he can help the players recover the losses incurred due to delay in the County Championship, T20 Blast and The Hundred. All counties in England have released the overseas players due to travel restrictions.

“The players have lost a lot of money due to the coronavirus. We do sponsorship deals with bats and how players can play in T20 leagues around the world. Qais was supposed to play for Gloucestershire in the T20 Blast and six Championship matches in first-class cricket. It got cancelled. The county pays the commission which was quite handsome. He also got picked by Welsh Fire in The Hundred for £60,000. And that got cancelled too. So he lost close to £100,000 in England and that’s big money. You can’t help and the only competition coming up is the Caribbean Premier League,” says a hopeful Lahiri, whose firm 1st Sports Event also manages top cricket coaches Lance Klusener, Dav Whatmore and Russell Domingo.

Even the sponsors have been pulling out due to no action. The England-West Indies Test series is the first official cricket tournament amid the virus.

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“The sponsors mean the bat company and the logo you see. It is per match basis. You play an ODI you get X amount, you play T20 you get Y amount subject you come to the crease. Now there is no play, so there is no pay. It has to be international cricket or a proper T20 league. If there is no cricket, there is no sponsor and if there is no sponsor, there is no money,” simplifies the 32-year-old adding, “Once it is a tough situation for an athlete, it automatically becomes tough for the agent. Even Klusener is on a pay cut now. Overall, it is a setback in the industry. It is everywhere.”

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Qais Ahmad, Kaustav Lahiri and Mustafizur Rahman.   -  Special Arrangement

 

Superstar football agent Mino Raiola is Lahiri’s inspiration. “He is the guy who manages Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba. I picked one thing from him – to treat my clients like my family,” he says, adding, "They have been asking me bhai, what to do? How do we travel and what's the plan? Usually I am in a position to answer this but the truth now is that even I don't know. But I keep talking to them."

Lahiri works in consultation with lawyer and sports agent James Welch of Quantum Sport in the UK. “We work with them for certain parts of the world; in County, CPL and all,” he adds.

He has been staying up till 4 am to ensure a CPL deal for his players. Four of them have made it to the T20 league in association with Quantum —  Qais and Naveen (Guyana Amazon Warriors), Najibullah Zadran (St. Lucia Zouks) and Rahmanullah Gurbaz (Barbados Tridents).

Narrowing the gap

Piyush Sachdeva, a sportsperson-turned-entrepreneur from Haryana, runs his firm High Times Solutions which also comprises NGOs and sports intellectual properties. His mode of operations through sports events is badly-hit due to the pandemic.

“Earlier, there were sponsorship deals. It has stopped as the industry is not functional now. There are no events, so it has definitely affected us. We had tried doing a few webinars but there was not much response. Nobody is ready to invest like before. Earlier, if there was a TV show or a chat show, everybody was ready to invest as sponsors but all this is down since the past four months,” he says.

Sachdeva is somehow staying afloat through his high-end lifestyle goods and apparel brand named CheQmate and QuinCella.

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Piyush Sachdeva is a sportsperson-turned-entrepreneur.   -  Special Arrangement

 

“Every last Sunday of May we have a 10K run in Karnal [happening since 2015]. It has been postponed now. We were also doing Haryana Fastest Runner in the first week of May which had full preparation and support from Athletics Haryana. There was a cash prize too. It all depends on government guidelines how we can go forward now,” says Sachdeva.

“The agenda behind 10K runs is that it can act as a source of tourist attraction, fund-raising for charities and revenue generation as is followed in Boston, New York, London and Tokyo. The running community is very grand and people of all age-groups participate with full zeal and enthusiasm," he adds.

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His alternative plan is to invest further in the fitness industry. “Fitness is a lifestyle now and I feel the fitness industry, cycling or running, can boom. People can do that for self-motivation; like marathon events, there could be cycling events. The manufacturing unit is booming - track pants, shorts, and fitness equipment. The business of fitness-related clothing is on the rise,” he says.

Sachdeva’s vision is to narrow the gap among the sports stakeholders. “My idea is to give it back to sports. We are all stakeholders of sports, whether it is a sports journalist or an entrepreneur, we need to support each other. This is the right time to back each other and the priority should be our community.”

Moving to social media

Baseline Ventures — which takes care of the top cricketers and athletes in India  — had to innovate to stay relevant. Even the players were enthusiastic with the new normal.

"We understand live sports are not happening but there were a few things happening in the digital space. We were concentrating on them for avenues. There were deals happening there and there were also a couple of discussions with long-term partners.

"At times, some restructuring had to happen. Everybody understands the tough phase, whether it is a firm, a corporate, a player or us," says Tuhin Mishra, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Baseline Ventures, that started a sports chat show titled 'Double Trouble' on YouTube with Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues of the women's team.

"It was a function of the pandemic but it is also not that it would not be possible otherwise," he says.

Mandhana and Rodrigues were joined by athletes from all disciplines; Saurav Ghosal, Joshna Chinappa, P.V. Sindhu, Sania Mirza to name a few. "The idea was to reach out to fans and consumers on behalf of the brand. The availability of players became easier due to the pandemic. It was part of our initiative anyway from the content creation point of view. The timing just matched. There are a few more shows planned for the digital space," says Mishra.

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The athletes understood the limitations amid the pandemic and both the parties have been supporting each other in such digital collaborations.

The coronavirus pandemic, first detected in China, infected 188 countries and brought the world economy down on its knees.  All major sporting events, including the Tokyo Olympics, Wimbledon and T20 World Cup, were either cancelled or postponed. The virus had a severe effect on the stock market and it trickled down to pay cuts and unemployment.

Over 15.7 million (15,736,499) people have been infected, and 638,577 have succumbed to the virus, according to the latest data released by Johns Hopkins University.

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