AB de Villiers is an exciting player admired and liked by all — does that mean that he influences cricketers to buy his bat brand? What will the impact of his retirement from international cricket be on his bat sales? What about other top cricketers who have been signed as brand ambassadors by brands: do they deliver the goods? Do disgraced players  have the opposite effect?

Call him Spiderman, or call him Superman, but AB de Villiers’ gravity-defying leap and catch in the recent IPL match elevated him to superhero status. It also explains why so many fans love him: he’s an incredibly exciting player — whether at the crease or on the field — who fires the imagination just as Jonty Rhodes did so many years ago, whether playing in India or South Africa.

No wonder he is seen as the one South African player who can launch a thousand bats. He is admired, has an engaging personality and delivers the Wow! factor.

Pictures of the packed Bangalore stands behind AB jumping high shows another reason why he is such a good choice as brand ambassador: he is a hero in India, where cricket is another religion followed by millions. He not only plays in the team captained by Virat Kholi, he wins matches for them. And that sells bats in the biggest cricket market in the world — especially when they are supplied by Indian brand MRF.

“Players certainly make a difference to bat sales, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be South African players,” says Wayne Vincent of The Cricket Company. “AB is the biggest influence by a very long way.”

AB is the one player who can generate sales, agree most sport and cricket specialist retailers who gave their opinion on who — or what — sells bats. Or, at least, he will prompt customers to ask for his bat brand.

But, the main selling point for a bat is a trusted brand name, which is well-known among cricketers, say the majority (84%). To a lesser extent price also has an influence on sales, adds Mlanda Landman of Trevor Smith Sports in Benoni.

“Personally, I think that players definitely make a big impact on the sales of the brand, but this accounts more for the younger cricketers. More developed cricketers will go for the brand they found is the best for them and the ones they know and trust,” says Werner Mels, a keen cricketer who heads the cricket section at the Sportcentre Knysna.

Many cricket fans are also to a large extent influenced by how a bat ambassador performs at a specific time, several retailers commented. Almost a question of out of sight, out of mind. Or, conversely, “equipment exposed on TV makes a big difference, especially when the player is top class and a likeable character,” says Vincent.

Successful players influence bat sales because their name is associated with the bat brand, agrees Hans de Bruyn of JZ Sports. “That is why manufacturers sponsor only players that catch the eye.”

How does this reflect on the influence other players in the Protea team have on bat sales? (Please note: our mini-survey was done at the end of the Indian and Australian tours and completed by retailers who mainly opted to stay anonymous).

  • Quinton de Kock (Gunn & Moore) is rated as a bat-seller by the 2nd highest number of retailers. Some comments: A definite second to AB — Vincent; A big impact on youth and boys cricket — Mels; Yes, he has an influence because he is well-known and does well — Landman.
  • Faf du Plessis (IXU) ties with Quinton as a bat sales influencer, according to retailers. Comments: He is the face of this brand and as test captain he can push some sales, especially in the Gauteng area — Yahya Godil of cricket specialist Khotso Sport; Yes, as captain he is well-known and plays well — Landman.
  • Aiden Markram (Gunn & Moore) is the player rated as an influencer by the third most retailers: He is rising steadily — Vincent; He has a big impact on youth and boys cricket — Mels; For sure, he influences sales to a young generation of cricketer’s as opening batsman in tests. It also makes a difference to bat sales that Gunn & Moore is a brand that is more than 100 years old — Godil.
  • Dean Elgar (Kookaburra) fired the imagination when he equalled a world record for batting through an innings for a third time in the eventful third test against Australia. It made a big difference to sales — Mels; He is the new face of Kookaburra — Godil, who says Elgar influences sales in his store because Kookaburra is also one of the biggest brands in the country.
  • David Miller (New Balance), has retailers debating his impact on bat sales. Comments vary from People like him because of his hitting ability — Landman; to David is going through a tough time, but New Balance did well on choosing him as a player — Godil; to an emphatic No impact — New Balance is growing, but it was carried more by (Joe) Root, (Steve) Smith and (Ben) Stokes … until recently — Vincent.
  • Hashim Amla (BAS) is well-liked and as a test cricketer (and former captain) he does have an influence on sales, but he is going through a bad patch, retailers comment.
  • Heinrich Klaassen (IXU) illustrates the fickleness of fame — after a great performance in the ODIs and T20 against India they had some requests for his bat, says Mels; and Yes, he had influence to an extent … when he had exposure with the Proteas — Vincent. But, after less than inspiring performances in his debut tests against Australia, he was dropped from the Protea squad for the third test and lost influence.
  • JP Duminy is another player who is trying to launch an unknown local brand — MK Handcrafted is partly owned by himself. This is, however, seen as a gamble by retailers. We had a lot of requests but don’t stock the brand — Mels; He can maybe sell his own brand in a small area — Godil.

And as far as selling cricket shoes are concerned, there is no doubt amongst retailers that Kagiso Rabada is the one player that has a big influence on the sale of adidas bowling shoes. “He is popular and kids specially notice what he is using, and even though he is a fast bowler, he can even influence (Gray-Nicolls) bat sales,” says Godil.

But, what about players from other countries — can they influence equipment sales? Nowadays, players get TV exposure across the world, and even more when they play locally. Ultimately, “it’s the way you play the game, that influences people,” says De Bruyn. “When big scores are made and the players’ bat cosmetics are nice, some people come in to ask for that colour equipment,” adds Landman.

Yet, the reality remains that not even endorsements from the world’s two greatest players ten years ago, Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, could launch MRF successfully in South Africa. It took a South African, AB, to change that.

What about disgraced brand ambassadors?

Retailers are unsure if players who are disgraced — like the Aussie cheats — would adversely affect bat sales. But, since these players had been banned from playing first class and test cricket for 9-12 months they will certainly be out of sight — which could either make them out of mind or leave a nasty taste when they are remembered.

Kookaburra therefore suspended Cameron Bancroft as a member of Team Kookaburra during his 9-month ban from representing Australia after the Supersport team caught him on camera tampering with the ball … with the resulting fall-out.

“Like all cricket fans Kookaburra was shocked at the events during the Cape Town test,” a brand spokesperson said. “Kookaburra, in accordance with its contract, is suspending Cameron Bancroft for the duration of his CA suspension. We hope to support Cameron continuing his career after this time.”

ASICS immediately dropped David Warner and Bancroft as footwear ambassadors because “the decisions and actions taken by David Warner and Cameron Bancroft are not something that ASICS tolerates and are contrary to the values the company stands for,” the brand said in a statement.

But, former captain Steve Smith and vice-captain Warner retain their bat sponsorships during their year-long suspensions. Smith is still an ambassador for the New Balance brand and Warner is still representing Gray-Nicolls bats on behalf of GN Sports in Australia — a separate entity to Grays International, which supplies our local Gray-Nicolls bats, says Grays marketing director Richard Gray.

In October last year New Balance ended England all-rounder and former vice-captain Ben Stokes’ contract worth £200 000 after he was involved in a fight outside a Bristol pub and mimicked a handicapped boy on video. At the time they said: “New Balance does not condone behaviour by our global athletes that does not match our brand culture and values.”

Warner was identified as the instigator of the plan to tell team rookie Bancroft to apply sandpaper to the ball during the third test at Newlands. Smith admitted that he knew about it beforehand.

Their actions cost Cricket Australia their main sponsor, investment firm Magellan Financial Group. Both Smith and Warner have been barred from playing for their IPL teams, where they were each on $2.5-m contracts. But, they may play English county cricket.

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