MS Dhoni, the India captain, has proved to be just as successful off the field as he has been on the field. Forbes magazine has ranked him as the highest-paid cricketer, as well as the highest-paid athlete in India for the period from June 2011 to June 2012.
Dhoni tops not only team-mate Sachin Tendulkar, but also global stars like Olympic 100m champion Usain Bolt, Novak Djokovic, the tennis World No.1, and England and Manchester United striker, Wayne Rooney.
According to the magazine, Dhoni made a total of US$ 26.5 million, of which $23 million was earned from endorsements and $3.5 million from salary and prize money. That puts him 31st on the list while Tendulkar was 78th, with total earnings of $18.6 million, of which $16.5 were from endorsements.
The Forbes list was topped by champion boxer Floyd Mayweather, who made $85 million, followed by his main rival, Manny Pacquiao, with earnings of $62 million, and Tiger Woods, with $59.4 million.
Dhoni's unprecedented success leading India - he is the only captain to have won the ICC World T20 championship, the 50-over World Cup and led his team to the No.1 Test ranking - has made him one of India's most popular celebrities, not just athletes.
A study by Tam Sports of the advertising patterns during the 2011 ICC World Cup showed that ads featuring Dhoni far outstripped those of any other celebrity. Ads involving Dhoni grabbed a 29% share of the total television ads during the tournament, almost three times the frequency of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, who was second with 10%. Tendulkar was fourth, with 7%.
In July 2010, Dhoni signed a three-year endorsement deal worth approximately Rs 2.1 billion ($ 42 million) with Rhiti Sports, a sports marketing agency. The deal surpassed the three-year deal worth Rs 1.8 billion ($38 million) that Sachin Tendulkar signed back in 2006, making it the largest such deal in Indian sports history.
Later the same year, he signed a three-year deal worth Rs 260 million (about US$ 5.7 million) to promote McDowell's soda, which is owned by the UB Group headed by Vijay Mallya. Altogether, Dhoni represents more than 20 brands, including Pepsi, Reebok, Aircel and TVS.
Sangeet Shirodkar, who helped put the deal together for Rhiti Sports but is now a director at Offspin Sports and Entertainment, says Dhoni's commercial success is tied not only to his sporting success, but also his surprising rise through the ranks of Indian cricket.
"He comes from a very humble background," Shirodkar said. "That has contributed to the fact that Indian brands are attracted to having him as a brand ambassador. The Indian growth story is targeted at the masses, not the top of the pyramid. [Dhoni is] one among them who has come out and has achieved so much."
In an article for the Hindu BusinessLine last year, Harish Bhat, the Chief Operating Officer - Watches, Titan Industries Ltd and Somprabh Singh, Senior Manager, Marketing, Titan also cited Dhoni's middle-class background as one of the key reasons for his appeal (Titan is one of the brands Dhoni endorses).
"Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Dhoni's brand personality is the respect and humility which he displays, not merely to the cricketing fraternity, but towards everyone he meets and interacts with," they wrote. "This reflects his strong middle-class values, his origins in a part of the country which has been the crucible of Indian culture and civilisation, and, of course, the simple person that he is. It enhances the esteem and love which Indians have for him"
According to the pair, another plus for India's captain is his ability to cut across demographics. "Dhoni symbolises vibrant youthfulness, which is aspirational across age-groups in our country. A large part of India is young, and the rest of India wishes to look and feel young. Therefore, his youthful appeal cuts across India's demography."
India's struggles over the last 12 months - losing eight consecutive away Tests to England and Australia - have clearly not dampened Dhoni's commercial appeal. With India's schedule requiring them to play mainly at home for the near future, his brand is likely to only grow stronger.