In a messy spot, Byju's puts Messi deal on hold

Troubled edtech company Byju’s three-year deal with footballer Lionel Messi as global brand ambassador has been put on hold, barely a year after the deal was signed, executives directly aware of the development said.

Byju’s had signed Messi as its global brand ambassador in November 2022 for three years for an ‘education for all’ campaign as part of its social impact arm. The soccer star had been roped in for an estimated $5-7 million per year.

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“Bjyu’s paid Messi for the first year; it is yet to be decided whether the deal will be terminated before full term, or whether Byju’s plans to revive the contract in due course. This is on account of the liquidity crisis and other matters of serious concern within the company,” one of the executives said.

An email sent to Byju’s spokesperson elicited no response.

In January last year, Messi had written on his Instagram page: “@byjus_app and their world-changing initiative#EducationForAll are helping children from underserved communities with access to world-class educational resources. I believe that this simple initiative has the power to change the world.”

The company had also not renewed its endorsement contract with actor Shah Rukh Khan after it ended mid-2023, which industry executives said was a mutual decision as Khan too did not want to be associated with the platform given its constant regulatory scrutiny.

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Byju's Messi dealETtech

At the time of announcing the association with Messi, Byjus had faced a series of backlash on social media, since it came one month after the company had announced layoffs of close to 2,500 employees. The company’s founder Byju Raveendran, however, justified in a note to employees that “there is a lot for us to learn from him and we are privileged to be able to,” he wrote.

Byju’s has been known to invest heavily in advertising and marketing in the recent past. It had also picked up official sponsorship of the Fifa World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

The company has been mired in a severe crisis, which include a shareholder agreement tussle where a group of investors in the edtech platform launched a campaign to oust leadership, and Raveendran issuing a statement saying investors don’t have the right to vote on management changes.

Raveendran wrote in a letter on February 4 addressed to employees, which stated that “the fight is only against a few vested interests who were trying to sabotage the company.”

The company has been under scrutiny over the past two years for issues ranging from a liquidity crisis to mass layoffs.

According to a Forbes ranking, Messi, Argentina’s most famous soccer player currently, is the second highest-paid athlete globally after Cristiano Ronaldo. The report estimated Messi’s annual earnings at $130 million in 2022-2023, second to Ronaldo’s $136 million total earnings. Brands Messi has been associated with Budweiser, PUBG MOBILE and Mastercard, among other brands, globally.

Harry Byrne

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