Arun Pandey has managed MS Dhoni for close to a decade and has opened up about the power of the former India skipper as a brand. (Image credit: Rhiti Sports)
Behind every successful man, there is a woman. That is the age-old adage when one defines success. However, in the case of former India skipper MS Dhoni this phrase can be twisted in this way. Behind every successful man, there is a woman and a best friend. The world knows about Sakshi Dhoni and the role she has played in Dhoni’s success. However, silently, in the entire journey, one man has silently ensured that Dhoni is a colossus. Arun Pandey, the owner of Rhiti Sports Management, has ensured that the wicketkeeper-batsman from Ranchi is the biggest sports brands India has produced. In an exclusive chat with News Nation, Pandey spoke about the dynamics of branding, sports management and shared an unknown anecdote on Dhoni and his personality.
“I remember in the early part of 2002 when Dhoni was in Delhi playing domestic cricket. He was put up in my house and one night, he went out with a friend on a bike. On the way, he decided to pack a burger and a coke for me. In those days, if you were caught in the South Extension red light, you would be stuck in hellish traffic for close to an hour. Despite getting stuck in traffic, he still held on to that packet and sat behind patiently. He gave it to me when I had not even asked for it. That showed how humble and genuine he is as a personality,” Pandey said.
From such humble beginnings, Dhoni has become the greatest cricketer and biggest brand that India has seen. From winning all three ICC trophies to being touted as the greatest captain of all time, Dhoni has seen comparisons with another great name in Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar, who is considered the original gold standard when it came to batting, was also a colossus when it came to branding as a sportsman. However, Pandey is clear cut on who is the bigger sportsman when it came to a brand.
“One cannot compare Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni when it came to branding. Can you compare god to a disciple? For me, Tendulkar is the ultimate god. Dhoni is his disciple,” Pandey gushed with excitement.
Pandey, who was himself a state-level cricketer and played First Class cricket representing Bihar and Jharkhand, spoke about how he made the plunge into sports management. “My policy is that if I do something, it has to be really good. I knew I had my limitations in cricket but I was passionate about branding and sports management. Of course, I do not have an MBA degree from Harvard or other prestigious institutions. However, I had the passion and I wanted to give 100 per cent to this and that is why I plunged into this field,” Pandey said.
When Pandey started Rhiti Sports in 2007, India had still not opened the doors to digitalisation and social media. In the space of 12 years, Pandey admits that the entire landscape has changed comprehensively. “Increased digitilisation and social media have given a different dimension to branding and sports management. Digitalisation is a boon and it has helped us easily. When it comes to social media, it has given increased interaction with the fans and made the celebrity come closer to the audience,” Pandey said.
Digitalisation and social media boom have seen Rhiti Sports get into other avenues, notably in fitness, football with regards to Chennaiyin FC and uniquely, into their new golfing venture Golf 7. When asked as to why take on a niche sport like golf, Pandey said, “The awareness for golf is growing in India. We are 30-40 years behind Europe when it comes to development and in creating great talent but we are ensuring that the interest level is built up.”
Pandey also expressed positivity when asked about the scene of sports management in India. “There is massive potential in the country. I can only see an upward trend when it comes to sports management and the way how this field will develop in the next few years,” Pandey said. The 40-year-old, however, highlighted one basic problem when it came to this field. “The lack of professionalism in India is a major problem when it comes to sports management development,” Pandey rued.
With Rhiti Sports making big strides in this field, the company has become a case study for success in sports management in the country. Pandey outlined the basic mantras to people who would want to take this field up in the near future. “Commitment, Passion and 100 per cent focus. These are the basic mantras for people who want to gain success in this field,” Pandey said. These three factors are the same characteristics which Dhoni embodies every single time he steps on to the playing field. Safe to say, he has acquired success. That too, plenty of it.