Sponsorship within Tennis - The Top 20
by Jake Kemp
Sportcal Sponsorship takes a closer look at the brand partnerships that are involved with tennis' elite players across both genders. The report breaks down a number of areas that contribute to the commercial appeal in both the men's and women's game; concluding the key differences in the sponsorship set up across both tours.
10th July 2019, 14:51

Following the end of the end of another memorable Wimbledon Championships for another year, Sportcal Sponsorship has crunched the data to analyse the commercial set up of one of the most financially rewarding sports on the planet. With tennis close to becoming a year round sport, the marketing potential of it’s stars has perhaps never been greater. In addition to the Grand Slams, tournaments such as the ATP and WTA Tour Finals, the Davis Cup and even the Olympics provide players with an opportunity to seize the spotlight and make themselves commercially attractive to sponsors. 

Athletes across the majority of sports are starting to become more aware of the importance of their own brand image and as such are looking to market themselves in a unique way that builds their reputation outside of sport. As an individual sport, tennis has throughout the decades continued to produce some of the most marketable stars, with some of the most recognisable names coming from the sport. In this report, Sportcal Sponsorship examines the commercial landscape of tennis, identifying the most popular trends and sectors in the sport.

 

The Top Twenty

Impact of Age

The longevity of a tennis players career has continued to increase in recent times, with the continued success of some of the games more high profile stars (Williams, Nadal, Federer and Djokovic) all of whom are safely in their 30’s. The oldest players currently playing on the tour are Serena Williams and Roger Federer, both aged 37. This represents a significant change from 10 years ago when the oldest player in the WTA and ATP top 20 was Venus Williams at 29 and Tommy Haas at 32. This highlights how much less of an impact age is having on tour success, with Federer and Williams still placed amongst the Grand Slam favourites, whilst Tommy Haas never reached a major final. It should also be noted that the women’s game had no players in their 30’s, and the men’s had only two.

 

Despite the women’s game having a average age 2.25 years younger than the men, both tour rankings hold seven players that are 25 and under, suggesting that both tours feature a decent mix of youth. Naomi Osaka, 21 and Ashleigh Barty, 23, who together have won the last three Grand Slam titles represent the best of the young crop of female players that are well positioned to succeed in the coming years. The men’s game continues to be dominated by its biggest three players, who account for 53 of the last 64 Grand Slam titles since 2003 and look set to continue to dominate in the short term. However, strong tour performances from the likes of Thiem, Zverev and Tsitsipas prove that there are players ready to take over the mantle when we say goodbye to the big three and the golden age of tennis.

 

 

 

*Highlighted players are currently active and in the top 20 July 2019

 

Nationalities

 

 

The established pool of American tennis talent continues to be the most influential, with four athletes featuring across the rankings. However, its dominance remains limited, with tennis offering an eclectic mix of representation, in which there are fifteen different nationalities on show in the women’s and sixteen in the men’s. The wide mix of cultures and nationalities on display in tennis means that only four nations (USA, Japan, Germany and Switzerland) are represented across the sport in both genders. 

There are 27 different countries represented across both formats of the game. Since the games origins in Western Europe, Europe as a continent has continued to act as the dominant and most represented continent in the sport. Today Europe is represented by 70% of the players in the female top 20 and 75% in the men's. The limited number of tennis stars emerging from outside of North America and Europe has helped raise the profile of the limited number who do. Despite its continued growth in popularity in Asia, the continent is represented by only three players across the genders. However, Asian players like Nishikori and Osaka who have enjoyed success in the game are able to commercially benefit, particularly within their home markets.

 

Continental Breakdown

Social Media Rankings

 Table: Combined following across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube

 

Unsurprisingly, the four biggest and most successful athletes in the game have attracted the most social media followers, with each attracting over 20 million fans. In an era where fans debate the best and most popular players, Nadal can also add King of Social Media to his King of Clay bio, with over three million more followers than his Swiss nemesis (Federer). Djokovic has long been described as having a chip on his shoulder for never quite achieving the same love amongst tennis fans as Nadal and Federer. And the Serb has struggled to attract the same legions of fans as his rivals, however, with almost 14 million more online followers than his nearest tour rival, he can certainly not be described as an unpopular figure.

The best of the rest is the 2009 US Open champion, Juan Martin Del Potro, who despite a number of injury setbacks across his career, remains an endearing and popular personality on the tour.

The five most popular female accounts (Williams, Wozniacki, Halep, Kerber and Kvitova) represent the older classmen of the female game. Each older than 26, these players have had time to establish more sustained success and as a result a larger collection of fans.

The most unfollowed player on the tour is Qiang Wang, although this can maybe be explained by her Chinese representation not translating to popularity across the traditional western social media channels.

Success tends to bring online popularity, however there are a few exceptions to this. Kei Nishikori and Gael monfils, who have enjoyed extended success on the tour, have benefitted from their native audiences which are both heavily invested in tennis. Ashleigh Barty (30th) and Marin Cilic (24th) have not been able to capitalise on their Grand Slam success, although Barty’s has come only recently and has many more years on the tour in which to grow her image.

 

Platform Breakdown

 

The breakdown of individual platform followers shows the consistent appeal of tennis across the three main social media channels. Whilst Twitter holds 10 and 16 million more followers than Facebook and Instagram, the latter is actually the most popular for following the games female stars. 

 

Over the past few years, players have called on the sports major organisations to readdress the issue of equal pay across its tour events. The issue has remained an hotly debated amongst the sports elite, with even Nadal and Federer taking different views. Over the past twelve months both have made their opinions heard, with Federer echoing the female cause “Sometimes maybe the men's game is a bit more popular. Sometimes the women's game [is]. I think we should always help each other regardless of who's more popular at the moment”. 

On the flip side, Nadal claim's “If they sell more tickets than what we sell tickets, they deserve more than us. That’s very easy to understand. Its not about being male or women. [It] doesn’t matter”. Nadal has also used the example of female models earning more than male models, which goes unspoken about, but that it is justified because of their larger following and appeal. Looking at the difference in popularity between the men and women highlights just how much more popular the men’s game is, with 112.45 million following its players online compared to 46.16 million. The numbers help back up Nadal’s claim of the men game being a more attractive entity, with the average total following per player 5.62 million compared to 2.31 million. 

 

Career Tour Success

Due to a combination of the unparalleled success of the big three male tennis players and the longevity of the men’s top 20 as a whole, it is no surprise to see that the men’s tour has yielded more victories. 

Despite its younger average collective, the female top twenty is actually made up of more Grand Slam champions, boasting eight titlists compared to the six male players. This highlights the dominance of the elite players in the men’s game in recent years compared to the openness of the women’s game which has seen the last 18 titles, since 2013, which were not won by Serena Williams won by 14 different players.

As a result, Serena Williams remains the most commercially successful female athlete due in part to her consistency. Commercial partners are less likely to heavily invest in players that have erratic results so look for the safe bet, which for over the past decade has been Serena Williams. 

 

 

 

Career Prize Money

 

Total Prize Money earnings across the Female players is $342.27 Million (Average of $17.11 M per player. Male player earnings totals $621.53 M ($31.08M per player).

Whilst it remains no surprise to see the big four, again placed in the top four for career earnings, it may come as a surprise to see Djokovic listed as the most profitable in the sport.

 

This table highlights the significant money that is on offer in the sport across the games elite. Even the lowest earning athlete, Matteo Berrettini has totalled a career prize money earnings of 1.73 million, with no grand slam and only three ATP Tour titles to his name at the age of just 23.

Over 25 athletes have earnt at least 10-figure sums on the tours.

 

Tournament Prize Money

One of the key issues that has dominated tennis over the decades surrounds the question of gender equality. This first came into prominence in 1973 following the exhibition match commonly referred to as the ‘Battle of the Sexes’, when Billie-Jean king defeated Bobby Riggs in three straight sets to bring greater credibility and raise the profile of female sport across the world. Since then, female players have continued to rally against the perceived gender imbalance.

Today, the question on equality more commonly addresses the issue of equal pay, particularly at Grand Slams. An even split of competition prize money was brought into effect at each Slam over a staggered period of time, beginning in 1973 at the US Open, then Australian Open in 2001, the French in 2006 and finally introduced at Wimbledon in 2007. Whilst on the surface, an even prize split appears equal, the questions still persist, mainly because of the different scoring formats which sees the women play best of three and men best of five at the Slams.

 

Looking at the most recently completed Slam, the 2019 French Open at Roland Garros, the prize pot is consistently split at all stages of the competition for both men and women, with a total singles prize pot of €16,280,000 ($18,458,900), with each Champion taking home $2,300,000 ($2,607,830).  

The statistics from this competition shows that male players spent a total of 19,600 minutes (326.66 hours) on court, making a match average 154.33 minutes (2hr34). Conversely, the collective time on court by female players came to 11,915 minutes (198.58 hours) at a game average of 94.56 minutes (1hr34) – a whole hour less than their male counterparts. In fact, the longest game in the men’s draw between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Stanislas Wawrinka (6-7,7-5.4-6,6-3,6-8) ran on for five hours and nine minutes, almost two hours more than the longest in the female draw between Elise Mertens and Anastasija Sevastova (7-6,4-6,9-11) which ended after three hours 18 minutes. There was even a thirty minute difference in the shortest games in the championships, with Simona Halep defeating Iga Swiatek (6-1,6-0) in just 45 minutes compared to the 75 minutes Hugo Dellien needed to defeat Prajnesh Gunnerswaran (6-1,6-3,6-1).

 

Ultimately, the substantial on-court time difference between the sexes offers ammunition to the idea that the even split does not offer gender equality. Overall, male players at Roland Garros collected winnings at a rate of $49,837.75 an hour, significantly less than the $81,982.07 per hour won by women. In comparing the two eventual champions, Rafael Nadal spent significantly more time on court than Ashleigh Barty - 16.42 hours against 9 hours, making the rate of earning for Nadal $158,820.34 per hour and $289,758.89 for Barty.

To end disputes over prize money equality, tennis as a sport has to address these issues. The easiest way to introduce equality at the slams would be to rearrange the scoring format, so that both genders play best of three, as they do for the most part on the tour. Most fans would be adverse to shortening the men's game however due to its historical success in five-set matches and offering of a clear step up in value from the tour.

 

Number of Sponsors

Despite the discrepancy in prize money and social media followers, the female athletes actually hold larger sponsorship portfolios on average than their male counterparts.

Federer’s popularity has been successfully transferred into commercial success and he currently holds the second highest number of deals to his name, pipped only by Kei Nishikori who has capitalised on his marketing potential in his home country, with nine Japanese based deals. Federer and Wawrinka appear to hold a greater international appeal, with eight and five of their endorsers being based outside of Switzerland.

Pliskova and Bencic lead the way for the most sponsorship deals in the female top 20, both endorsing eleven brands, owing much to their image domestically, with each possessing seven home-based endorsers. Naomi Osaka’s sponsorship potential has boomed over the past eight months, particularly in Japan, and now sees her as the third most sponsored female tennis player. With seven Japanese deals already listed on her portfolio, it would not be a surprise to see Osaka continue to add to this ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to become the most sponsored tennis player outright.

 

 

Sponsorship Worth

 

Our deal valuations sees the collective male portfolio worth just shy of three times more than the female top twenty. This in part can be explained by the four biggest sponsorship portfolios – Federer, Nishikori, Djokovic and Nadal, who are worth a combined $175 million.

Outside of these four however, the sponsorship worth between the rest of the players sees a healthy split across the genders, with women accounting for nine of the most lucrative top twenty portfolios. Despite Osaka’s marketing value skyrocketing in recent months, Serena Williams remains the overwhelming queen of sponsorship in tennis, taking home an estimated $25 million a year. 

Some of the more well established names, Stephens, Wozniacki, Kerber and Halep have been able to propel their own sponsorship worth over time, thanks to a combination of experience, successes and larger domestic markets for tennis. The backend of the table is predominantly made up of lower-ranked, younger players on the tour, with some unable to benefit from home support, being based in countries that are less tennis obsessed. 

 

Brand Breakdown

 

The graph below shows just how unique the majority of the partnerships on the tour are with 114 brands having only one deal across tennis with non-endemic brands for the most part choosing not to follow strategies of entering into a large number of deals in the sport. The diversity of the games elite players can be the seen as the best explanation for this.

 

Looking at the individual deals, the women’s game on the whole is more dependent on domestic sponsors, with 51.2% of all its deals completed with a brand that is based in the same country as the athlete it sponsors. By comparison, the men’s tour is made up of 36.6% domestic brands. 

Given an athletes dependency on securing suppliers for their kit and attire, it is no surprise to see clothing & accessories and sports equipment ranked as the two most active industries in the sport. Whilst the majority of the 69 clothing & accessories deals fall under an official supplier partnership, another essential makeup of a tennis players sponsorship portfolio is a watchmaker. Watches always tend to make an appearance for the start of a trophy presentation, and as such watch manufacturers are keen to see their products appearing on worldwide images of a player lifting a tournament trophy. With thirteen female and twelve male players actively holding partnerships with watchmakers, the watch sector is involved with 62.5% of the top 40 players.

 

Behind the top two sectors, the automotive, financial services and consumer goods & services sectors hold the next highest number of deals, with 17 each. These sectors align better with the elite image tagged against tennis as a sport.

 

On the whole brand partnerships have been formed from within national borders of countries that are represented at least once in the 40 players looked at. The active brands all derive from within 22 countries across the globe, of which only four, the Cayman Islands, Belgium, Lithuania and South Korea are not represented by a top-20 player. With two of the most active brands in the top-20, Nike and Wilson being based in the US, it again comes as no surprise to see American brands being the most involved nation in the player’s sponsorship portfolio. 

 

 

Kit Suppliers

 

 

With eleven different brands named as an official kit supplier of the top 20 ranked players, this type of partnership remains a highly competitive field. Despite this, the biggest and more established sporting brands continue to enjoy dominance in tennis, with Nike controlling a mini-monopoly, maintaining 35% (14) of the 40 deals. In particular, they hold greater influence in the women’s game, with 10 of the 20 deals.

Italian brand Fila offer perhaps the greatest return on its partnerships, with its three female partnerships all being signed with players in the top 4. The women’s top 20 features four brands with only one deal – Lacoste, Asics, Ellesse and Yonex, with seven unique brands affiliated in total.

The men’s game offers more variety, with 10 different brands named as kit suppliers. As previously, whilst Nike maintains the highest number of deals, it does not hold the biggest deals, with only one (Nadal) deal representing the games top 8. Adidas, who appear to have targeted specific and an equal number of players from across the genders, have aimed to align themselves with the younger crop of tennis stars in the men’s game, operating deals with Thiem, Zverev and Tsitsipas.

Containing more common household names has resulted in the men’s game attracting more substantial finances from its official kit supplier partners. Yet again, Nadal and Federer have managed to squeeze the most lucrative deals on the tour, each valued at $10 million, however Kei Nishikori generates more from his partnership with domestic brand Uniqlo ($10 million also) than Novak Djokovic with Lacoste ($8.97 million).

Naomi Osaka’s headline switch from Adidas to Nike in the aftermath of her two Grand Slam triumphs in 2019 has seen her topple Serena Williams as the highest earner from her kit supply deal. Despite this, the female’s rake in less than half that of their male counterparts ($22,975,000) although much of the $49.32 million can be explained through the huge deals in place with the ‘big three’ and Nishikori.

Athletic Leisure has continued to rise in popularity in high street fashion, and as such athletic partnerships with kit suppliers are often the most lucrative. Stars who start to transcend their sport can often turn their deal into an even bigger business opportunity, like Michael Jordan did, as the basketball star worked with Nike to form his own designer brand. There are two clear examples of this in tennis,  with Federer and Nadal having created their own signature brand and logo. Nadal’s logo tends to feature on his playing clothing and shoes, and is representative of the nickname ‘Ragin Bull’. Roger Federer’s RF brand is easily the most popular, however his switch from Nike to Uniqlo has seen his involved in a legal dispute with the American brand over ownership of the famous logo.

There are three unique deals across the 40 athletes looked at. Sole representation of the brands New Balance and Ellesse lies with Milos Raonic and Johanna Konta, whilst Fabio Fognini’s partnership with high-end fashion brand Emporio Armani sees the Italian boast the most unusual kit supplier.

 

Serena or the Big Three – Who has the Greatest Impact

  Excluding Serena

       

      Average Age = 25.63

      Grand Slam Titles = 11 (Average of 0.58)

      Tour Titles = 165 (Average of 8.68)

      Career Prize Money = $253.41 M ($13.34 M)

      Number of Deals = 113 (5.95)

 

      Excluding Djokovic, Nadal and Federer

 

       Average Age = 27.47

       Grand Slam Titles = 5 (Average of 0.29)

       Tour Titles = 155 (Average of 9.12)

       Career Prize Money = $255.53 M ($15.03 M)

       Number of Deals = 82 (Average of 4.82)

Tennis has enjoyed a golden era that has spanned the best part of the last two decades. Just one Slam away from equalling Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles, Serena Williams’s dominance in the game leaves her unquestionably regarded as the greatest female player of all time. Conversely, in the men’s game a case can be made for all of its current top three, with each of them occupying the top three positions atop the list of most grand slam titles. 

Grand Slam Titles - On the court, Serena’s total of 23 sees her account for 67.65% of the entire number of titles achieved within the games current top 20. Collectively, the big three’s dominance has seen them named as champions of 91.38% of the titles held in its rankings. Upon looking at their titles individually however, Roger Federer holds the greatest influence, accounting for 34.48% of these titles in the men's game – almost half of Williams’ responsibility.

Tour Titles - On the WTA Tour, Williams’ 72 titles means her influence spans 30.38% of the rest of the top 20. Again the collective careers of the big three sees them hold a bigger influence than Williams, with 62.47% of the top 20’s ATP tour titles being won by them. Federer’s 102 titles on the tour sees the Swiss as the most successful in the men’s game, accounting for 24.7% of all victories, again falling short of Serena’s influence.

Career Prize Money - Williams has earnt 25.96% of the top 20’s WTA Tour earnings. In comparison, the most successful male player is Novak Djokovic whose winnings on the ATP Tour account for 21.19%. The top three males tennis players combined share an influence on the career prize pot of 58.89%.

Sponsorship Worth – Federer actually enjoys the greatest individual influence across both tours, with 42.67% of the male sponsorship worth being generated by Swiss. When combined with the worth of Nadal and Djokovic, the big three account for 70.45% of the entire ATP Tour’s sponsorship value. Williams’ worth means she represents 35.6% of the WTA’s sponsorship total.

Social Media Followers – Online, all three male players possess a greater individual following than Serena. This said, Williams once again has the more significant representation when compared to their respective tours, with 59.24%, compared with against the most influential male player Nadal who attracts 32.8% of the ATP’s collective followers. When pulled together, the big three make up 81.33% of the ATP’s top 20 social media following.

From an individual standpoint, Serena Williams holds the greater impact on her tour than either Federer, Nadal or Djokovic, named as the most influential in all areas looked at in this report, excluding sponsorship worth. However, when analysing her impact against the ‘big three’ combined, the male trio come out victorious in all areas analysed. Even if you pitted their numbers against the biggest three female stars collectively, currently arguably Caroline Wozniacki and Naomi Osaka, the male trio continue to hold greater influence over the rest of the top 20 rankings – with these female trio representing 62.69% of the sponsorship worth, 39.19% of the tours career prize money and 75.47% of the social media following. 

Summary

Tennis has remained one of the most internationally popular sports for decades, with the allure of its four major events making the list of the most anticipated competitions of every sporting calendar. The sport continues to ride the popularity and success of its biggest stars, and is already lining up younger replacements to take over the mantle when the current golden crop of talent relinquishes control in the shape of athletes like Zverev, Thiem, Osaka and Barty. One major title can thrust a player into the mainstream eye and open up a world of new commercial opportunities, with Naomi Osaka’s raised profile following the US and Australian Open a prime example of this.

The biggest stars in the biggest markets continue to reap the financial rewards, with Nishikori a huge beneficiary of his Japanese heritage, with the most active number of sponsorship deals in place, despite only holding a solitary Grand Slam final appearance to his name. The biggest deals from a sponsor standpoint continue to be made in the men’s game. However, Osaka’s recent $8.5 million deal with Adidas proves that financial opportunities remain open to both genders, if they successfully exploit their own image following success.

The sport is also a huge beneficiary of its own global reach, with major competitions held annually across the continents and 27 different nationalities represented within its elite players.

Nike continues to dominate the tennis scene, with the most recognisable outfits, worn by the majority of its ambassadors at the sports Grand Slam competitions. This said, a number of brands are beginning to make inroads into the kit supplier market, with Fila kitting out three of the four highest ranked female players and Adidas aligning itself with the games future male stars – Thiem, Zverev and Tsitsipas.

In keeping with the tennis player’s must have sponsorship deal with a watch brand, Rolex can be named as the most active non-endemic brand, with 10 players signed to its ranks. Consumer Goods & Services alongside automotive and financial services can boast to be the most active sectors in the sport, outside of the necessary deals with clothing & accessories and sports equipment brands.

The men’s game holds greater success in regards to career earnings, social media followers and career titles and as such a debate around equal prize money can expect to continue for the foreseeable future.

 

 

 All data within this report is accurate as of 12th July 2019.