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Thu 23 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Game, set, show me the cash

Tennis has become the newest money-spinning ‘super sport' thanks to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Tennis has become the newest money-spinning ‘super sport' thanks to just two men, says Melissa Sleiman.

When Roger Federer lost to Rafael Nadal in this year's Wimbledon final, his runners up cheque of US$690,000 paled in comparison to the US$1.3 million he took home last year after winning the legendary tournament for the fifth consecutive year.

But while Nadal may have stolen his Wimbledon crown and number one world ranking, which Federer, 27, had held onto for four and a half years, the Swiss dynamo, nicknamed ‘Fed Express' could take solace in the estimated US$26 million he'd earned over the past 12 months in global endorsements, according to Forbes magazine. Federer's yearly haul including prize money: a not too shabby $35 million.

Nadal meanwhile may have only earned US$20.5 million in prize money in his entire seven years since going pro, but the 22-year-old Spanish heart throb is already snapping at Federer's heels with sponsorship deals. His annual income has climbed up to an estimated US$18 million, including this year's $6.5 million in prize money.

It may be less than half of Federer's income, but Nadal's earning potential is sky-high due to his young age and mass appeal to the public and sponsors alike.

Both players are being credited with the spectacular renaissance in tennis as a world ‘supersport'. This year's Wimbledon final match was lauded by tennis pundits around the world, with the BBC, who screens the tournament, calling it the most "nail-biting Wimbledon finals ever played".

Such is the popularity of Federer and Nadal that the viewing figures of the longest men's final in Wimbledon history exceeded 13 million in the UK alone, second only to Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanisevic's epic final in 1992.

The renewed interest in tennis, after a fall-off of interest since the halcyon period from the late 70's to the early 90's, has been attributed to Federer and Nadal specifically and has allowed the top players to earn much more than their predecessors.

"The difference in salaries for the top tennis players of today versus 5 years ago has increased an estimate of 20 to 30 percent", says Micky Lawler, Managing Director of the tennis division of global sports marketing agency Octagon, which is based in the US.

Among her clients are top players such as David Ferrer (ranked #5), former champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, Jelena Jankovic (women's #2), and Amelie Mauresmo (former #1). She also sits on the Women's Tennis Association Board of Directors.

Lawler points out that a main cause of the increase is a higher amount of tournament prize money every year. Roger Federer, at age 27, has already surpassed the career prize money earnings of former champion Pete Sampras, who retired in 2002 at the age of 31. Both of them have earned slightly more than US$43 million from playing in tournaments.

Endorsement deals are also generating more money for the current tennis top than they did for their predecessors. "I think the strategy [of sponsors] has become much more selective", Lawler explains. "Rather than signing up 30 players, they're signing up the top players and willing to invest more in them."That's also the case in the deal between Federer and Nike for the next 10 years. "The most lucrative tennis endorsement deal ever" according to SportsBusiness Journal is reported to be worth $13 million a year or more.

Lawler thinks that Nike has played a "big role" in the developing and working together of both Nadal and Federer's image and brand plan. "These have become partnerships rather than sponsorships. They work together very closely [with the sponsor] and go through the processes of planning and appearances together. Sponsorships have become very dynamic compared to before."

Dubbed the ‘King of Clay', Nadal is quickly catching up with Federer when it comes to the amount of money he rakes in. This year Nadal extended his deal as the global ambassador for Kia motors for another three years. He is also the face of L'Oreal's Elvive shampoo and signed on with Time Force watches and Babolat tennis rackets.

Spanish banking company Banesto signed a three-year contract with ‘Rafa' in 2007. "Nadal is passion in person", says the company's president, Ana Patricia Booty, somewhat floridly. "He fights each game, each point, each blow. He never surrenders and that transforms him into a winner."

Roger Federer, on the other hand is known to be less emotional on the court. Sponsor Nationale Suisse, a Swiss insurance company, says that "he embodies individuality and has a sympathetic and pleasant personality". Spokesperson Cornelia Frei believes that "Federer could represent any high-quality brand as an image ambassador."

That image has landed him endorsement deals with among others Mercedes-Benz, Rolex, Swiss International Airlines, the Swiss private aircraft company Netjets and Wilson for his tennis rackets. Nike partnered with him to supply his clothing, as they do for his rival Rafael Nadal.

Is the game as a whole now being propped up by this one compelling rivalry between two men? Salah Tahlak, Tournament Director of the Dubai Tennis Championships, says it was ever thus:

"There have been many famous rivalries in the sport over the decades", Tahlak points out. "Famously, there was Borg and McEnroe, Agassi and Sampras and now Nadal and Federer. The rivalry between the latter certainly adds to the excitement of the game as it is a rivalry based on mutual respect."

Tennis as a sport has also grown after the organising bodies of the worldwide tournaments - the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for men and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) for women - increased their investments in the tennis tours.

Both tours have been undergoing rigourous change - the obvious effect of the money that is now being pumped into it. The changes to the ATP World Tour for 2009 will trigger over $1 billion spend committed to construction and improvement of facilities, as well as increased financial commitment into men's tennis over the next five years. The WTA will be investing $710 million in total.

This year, the prize money for the tournament winner on average increased to $1.5 million dollars for every grand slam win. From 2006 to 2009, the women's prize money will have seen an increase of 40 per cent.

For men the increase is less, as women have been receiving less prize money than men in the past. The numbers are now roughly equal. The men's prize money for the four grand slams this year went up between one and eight per cent compared to last year.Significantly, the investments of the ATP and WTA have resulted in increased TV ratings, says Tahlak, and subsequently, advertising revenue generated when screened with commercials.

"That is one of the main reasons for sponsoring tennis. This obviously means greater exposure for your brand." Barclays bank, main sponsor of the Dubai tournament, agrees that tennis events are "very far-reaching". The bank is sponsoring the tournaments for US$9 million spread over three years starting from this year.

Michael Miebach, Managing Director of Barclays in the MENA region, sums it up: "Tennis attracts a very multinational crowd because all you need is a racket and a ball. It's also a universal sport. Tennis, as well as football and golf, are played all over the world."

Gillette acknowledged that tennis has become a popular sport comparable to golf and soccer when it signed on Roger Federer in 2007. He became the face of Gillette shaving cream alongside soccer player Thierry Henry and golf legend Tiger Woods.

The top-earning athletes are now in the fields of golf, boxing, tennis, racing and soccer, according to a study by Sports Illustrated in 2007. Tiger Woods tops the charts of the magazine's ‘Fortunate 50' list by earning an estimated US$112 million annually.

Next on the list is boxer Oscar de la Hoya, who earned an estimated $51 million. Formula 1 ace Fernando Alonso raked in US$35 million, while soccer superstar David Beckham isn't far behind with US$33 million annually.

Female tennis players are also making the big bucks, mostly from other activities than tennis. Despite their champion status, the Williams sisters recognise how lucrative their reputation on court can be and both have launched a clothing line.

In addition, Venus, 28, who trumped Serena to take this year's Wimbledon title, owns an interior decorating company called V Starr. Both sisters earned an estimated $15 million over the past year, according to Forbes. This included Serena's tournament winnings of US$3.6 million this year in comparison with Venus's US$2.3 million.

The leader by an overhead smash when it comes to women tennis players earning power from commercial deals however, is 22-year-old Russian bombshell Maria Sharapova. The 6th seeded female player in the world is estimated by Forbes to have earned a whopping $26 million over the past year, making her the world's highest paid female athlete. Only US$2 million of that was earned playing tennis and she has earned $12 million in prize money in her entire career.

Sharapova realised the sweet smell of success in 2004 by inking a deal with Parlux fragrances to launch her own perfume in a three-year contract worth US$5 million. She also has lucrative sponsorship deals with global brands ranging from Sony Ericsson, Nike, Canon and Colgate to Gatorade, Landrover, and TAG Heuer.

But perhaps the deal that truly indicates the power of her appeal - her model looks - is her unique two-year contract with jewelry giants Tiffany & Co, which calls for Sharapova to wear Tiffany earrings and jewelry at all four major tennis tournaments, starting at the 2008 French Open.

And Sharapova has set herself up well. Her 2006 contract with tennis racket brand Prince will reportedly net her a cool US$25 million over the next 10 years. Closer to home, Sharapova launched the AED 2.4 billion lifestyle project ‘Dubai Lifestyle City' in Dubailand in 2007, which will house a branch of the IMG Academy, at which she trained for superstardom in America.

"There's no doubt that the world's top tennis players are making big money by cashing in on their global appeal. The market wants new faces, innovation," Micky Lawler says of tennis players' marketability. "When Maria Sharapova came along, it was like she was the ‘It girl'. Tennis players have become like movie stars.

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