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Storyboard 18 | Brands like to endorse athletes who they get to see often on TV: Mithali Raj

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Captain of Indian Women’s cricket team Mithali Raj talks to Storyboard18 about endorsements and the attention women athletes are getting from brands these days. For Raj, the last 4-5 years have been a game changer.

Storyboard 18 | Brands like to endorse athletes who they get to see often on TV: Mithali Raj
With just about two months left for the ICC Women’s World Cup 2022 captain of the Indian team Mithali Raj thinks there is no better time for brands to come forward. “Brands should encourage women cricketers which will not just get them the attention but also send out a message to the society to support women who dare to think big and out of the box,” she tells Storyboard18.
Raj, a record-setter who has even broken her own records, was recently roped in by Jacob's Creek, the official wine partner ICC Women’s World Cup, as ambassador. In an interview with Storyboard18, Raj talks about the changing trends in brand endorsements when it comes to women athletes, her idea of an ideal brand partnership, the hype around big tournaments and more.
Edited excerpts
Tell us a little about being the face of Jacob’s Creek. Did you have any reservations about the association?
I'm delighted to be associated with Jacob's Creek, because they are the official wine partner for ICC Women’s World Cup which is going to be held in New Zealand in the month of March. They've also been associated with tennis as sponsors of the Australian Open in the past. So clearly it is a brand which supports not just sport as an overall category but also women’s sports. So that is a big reason for me to be associated with the brand.
Are there specific categories of brands that have been approaching you over the years? Could you give us a sense of the change you are seeing in the kind of brands that approach you? 
Usually, every brand that supports women's sport or women athletes reaches out but there have been a couple of brands that I didn’t expect. L'Oréal, for instance. Then there was Rio Tinto‘s Australian Diamonds. So clearly things have improved for women athletes in our country in the last four or five years where brands don't restrict themselves to only certain categories where they think a woman athlete can be their face. There are multiple new categories that reach out and work with women in sports.
I'm an ambassador for the Association of Mutual Funds in India where there are male cricketers on board as well. It is so good to see this healthy mix. We have come a long way and finally there is no differentiation in terms of categories or brands that men and women sportspersons endorse.
Do you think attention given to women in sport in the country is very transient? Is it changing? 
I think it is changing. But it has a lot to do with how often the sport is on television. I believe that in the current times it's more to do with the visual impact. The more you see something on TV the more it gets registered in your memory. So if you see a sport on TV in the beginning of the year and then you see nothing of it for the next six months you tend to forget about it.
So it’s not just about women athletes only. You need to see more of a sport on TV to remember the athletes in it.
How do you feel about the bursts of hype around tournaments and athletes? Does brand interest wane after mega tournaments like the World Cup?
Brands like to endorse athletes who they get to see often on television. So the more your matches are televised, the more brands approach you with endorsement offers. It is not just about the World Cup. While it is a big platform for brands looking for visibility there are other big events too that get a lot of attention. The bilateral series for instance where we were touring Australia for the pink ball test. Then there was the England tour too. A lot of brands approached me during these times too. So while everybody wants to rally around the mega events like the World Cup, Olympics or Commonwealth games, brands tend to approach athletes during other events too, especially the ones that are televised. This helps the sport, the athlete as well as the brand.
Is there any brand category that you avoid on principle? 
If the brand would want to change any part of me to be a part of an endorsement deal, then I am not up for it. I don’t want to change myself and pretend to be someone I am not. In our country the common man relates far more easily to an athlete, because our journey is very similar to theirs so I cannot do something that doesn’t resonate with the people who support me and my sport.
I need to believe in the brand I am endorsing because the expectation is that the common people would believe what I am saying and that is the reason I don’t want to lie to them. This is something I am very particular about.
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