How India’s Olympic badminton star became a sponsors’ dream on £ 126,000-a-week

It was no surprise when Serena Williams topped the Forbes list of highest-earning female athletes released earlier this week, but you may have not recognised the name of the woman in seventh place.

Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, more commonly known as PV Sindhu, is a 23-year-old badminton player from India and became only the second Indian competitor, male, or female, to win an Olympic badminton medal with a silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Her on-court winnings last year totalled $ 500,000 (£ 387,000), but endorsements saw Sindhu bring in an extra $ 8 million (£ 6.2 million) in sponsorship in sports-mad India. That works out as a weekly income of $ 163,000 (£  126,000).

That is more than earned by Simona Halep, the WTA world number one as of 22 August, and the top seed for the 2018 US Open.

Sindhu comes from a sporting background with both her parents playing volleyball at national level, but she took up badminton aged six when inspired by Pullela Gopichand, who won the men’s singles event at the All England Open Badminton Championships in 2001.

Her life and career changed during the women’s singles competition at the 2016 Olympics. She was only seeded ninth but gained wins over eighth seed Tai Tzu-ying of Chinese Taipei in the last 16, China’s second seed Wang Yihan in the quarter-finals, and Japan’s sixth seed Nozomi Okuhara in the semi-finals before losing to Spain’s world number one Carolina Marin in the final.

“Before the Olympics, when we reached out to sponsors, often we were asked ‘Sindhu who?’,” said Tuhin Mishra – group managing director of Baseline Ventures, the company that takes care of Sindhu’s commercial interests – in an interview with CNBC in 2017.

“The market dynamics were tough. Everyone only wanted to be associated with cricket.”

India has only won 28 Olympic medals, with five of those gained by women. No Indian woman has won a gold; Sindhu was the first to earn a silver.

After her return from Rio, she received cash prizes from the different state governments, and government institutions worth Rs. 13 crore (Rs. 130 million – about £ 1.4 million), while, as a comparison, gold medallist Marin received Rs 70 lakh (Rs. 7 million – about £ 77,500), from the Spanish government for her achievement.

Sindhu was also awarded land from the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana government, and a luxury BMW car from the Hyderabad Badminton Association, presented by cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar.

Since then, a host of companies have been queuing up to be associated with Sindhu, with her sponsorship value matching, and surpassing, that of many Indian cricketers, apart from Captain Virat Kohli.

Those companies on Sindhu’s sponsor roster include Bridgestone Tyres, sports drink Gatorade, pain reliever ointment Moov, online fashion store Myntra, Nokia, Panasonic, honey producer APIS Himalaya, herbal health drink firm Ojasvita, and the Bank of Baroda. She is also a brand ambassador for both, the Central Reserve Police Force and Vizag Steel.

“Her soaring popularity has attracted the attention of so many companies,” Mishra told The Times of India in 2016. “Even after achieving stupendous success, her humility, and the value she brings to women power is remarkable.”

Success off court has also followed success on court, with silver medals at the 2017 and 2018 World Championships, and an individual silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, where she also helped her country to mixed team gold.

On Thursday, she begins her campaign in the women’s singles at the Asian Games in Indonesia, where she is the third seed.

India has won one individual bronze medal in this competition – Syed Modi in the men’s singles in 1982. Sindhu is aiming to become the first Indian woman to secure an Asian Games badminton medal.

If she does, her brand value and marketability will rise further, and even more companies will be looking for endorsements. As a result, she could find herself even higher up the Forbes list in 2019. (BBC Sport)

Forbes – Highest earning female athletes
NameSportPrize moneyEndorsementsTotal
1. Serena Williams (USA)Tennis$62,000 (£48,050)$18m (£13.9m)$18.062m (£14m)
2. Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)Tennis$6m (£4.6m)$7m (£5.4m)$13m (£10m)
3. Sloane Stephens (USA)Tennis$5.7m (£4.4m)$5.5m (£4.2m)$11.2m (£8.6m)
4. Garbine Muguruza (Spain)Tennis$5.5m (£4.2m)$5.5m (£4.2m)$11m (£8.5m)
5. Maria Sharapova (Russia)Tennis$1m (£773,500)$9.5m (£7.3m)$10.5m (£8.1m)
6. Venus Williams (USA)Tennis$4.2m (£3.2m)$6m (£4.6m)$10.2m (£7.9m)
7. PV Sindhu (India)Badminton$500,000 (£387,000)$8m (£6.2m)$8.5m (£6.6m)
8. Simona Halep (Romania)Tennis$6.2m (£4.8m)$1.5m (£1.1m)$7.7m (£6m)
9. Danica Patrick (USA)Nascar$3m (£2.3m)$4.5m (£3.5m)$7.5m (£5.8m)
10. Angelique Kerber (Germany)Tennis$3m (£2.3m)£4m (£3.1m)$7m (£5.4m)