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Anyone for tennis? Representing clients and a 2009 Preview

One of the best things about summer in Australia is that it is saturated with world class tennis. Not only are we lucky enough to enjoy beautiful beaches and weather but we get to see all the action culminating in the Australian Open.

Tennis, in regards to sports business, does not receive much coverage yet almost everyone, whether a die hard fan or not, could probably name a few players. Tennis has experienced quite a resurgence in the last few years, with record attendances at the Australian Open being just one of the upsides of late, not to mention at grassroots level, with an increase of 7% from 2007 to 2008 in participation in the US.

Despite the level of interest in the sport, tennis like many other sports may be affected by the current economic crisis. Rising ticket prices may hurt the Australian Open this year, with spectators opting for the cheaper ground pass option over centre court seats.

From a Sports Agent point of view, the main sources of revenue that you receive are through gaining sponsorship for your client. The general level of percentage of the deal is between 15-25%. The obvious sponsors that you are looking to attract for your client are apparel and equipment sponsors. This can range from your client wearing and using the company’s equipment for no income, which would occur with a player starting out or low ranked to multi-million dollar deals and specifically tailored and named items in that your client may have a part in designing. One only needs to look at Roger Federer’s reported $13 million a year deal with Nike and his “RF” apparel. His previous deal, which he signed in 2002 was worth $6 million over 6 years.

After the initial sponsors are signed, and if your client is good enough, you may start attract non-sporting sponsors for your player. This may range from a few promos for the company to wearing the logo on their apparel while playing. Maria Sharapova is the queen of the female tour, attracting around $20 million in sponsorship alone, the bulk from the non-sporting arena.

Tennis players do not have a guaranteed salary, competing for prize money week to week. Winning a Grand Slam can net you millions, whilst a smaller tournament might only get you about $25,000 for a win. Taking out travel, accommodation, coaches and medical fees doesn’t leave much in the pay check at the end of the day, hence why sponsorship is vital (though some National sporting bodies help with these fees). Taking this into account, a look at the 2008 WTA Prize Money list and the Top 200 would be the cut off of earning a decent living. That being said, players based in Europe or the US on the ITF Challenger Circuit can earn a decent wage, with tournaments worth between $25,000 and $150,000 being held almost every week. Earning more gives professionals more chances of success as they can invest in equipment that will help them become a better player. You can always read more about the equipment these tennis stars use which makes them such great players.

The role of a tennis agent varies from day to day. After attracting and keeping sponsors happy, an agent assists the player in maintaining life on the tour. This could be anything from booking flights and accommodation, setting up interviews, registering players for tournaments and so on. Basically anything that makes life easier for the player, who can focus on training and competing. With the tennis tours being worldwide, it’s important that an agent establishes a network of contacts throughout the world. Hence why the big agencies have a large list of clients.
Representing tennis players is no easy feat, as a lot of time and money must be invested on lowly ranked players to help them reach the big time, which may never happen.

In such tennis loving countries as Australia, it’s not uncommon for players to transcend their tennis persona and move into the general public spotlight. Former player Alicia Molik was recently a contestant on the Australian “Dancing with the Stars”.

In terms of representation, there are three major players:

IMG has a hand in representation and tournament management. Their stable includes the Top 2 men, Federer and Nadal, along with Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport and the recently signed Jelena Jankovic. Having the resources of a large company attracts many stars to employ them, along with their reputation.

Octagon’s client base includes Elena Dementieva, Amelie Mauresmo, Ernests Gulbis and rising star Dominic Cibulkova. With over 50 clients on their books, Octagon also has a hand in tournament management, making their mark in tennis all the more significant.

Creative Artists Agency deserves a mention as they have world number 3 and 4 of the ATP Tour in Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray on their books. Look out for them to acquire more talent over the future.

So what will 2009 hold? The Fed Express appears to have been dethroned, with Nadal now at No.1. The Williams sisters are showing no signs of slowing down their dominance, however there are some players coming through who may give them a run for their money.

The Big Guns:

The Williams Sisters: Serena and Venus, if they can escape injury should continue their successful run into 2009, with the Grand Slams in their sights. These 2 have been the model of consistency over the years capturing 16 Grand Slams in their time.

Maria Sharapova: After the embarrassing thrashing she had at the Australian Open in 2007, Maria came back and won the 2008 title comfortably. By far the highest earning player on the female tour, Maria still manages to fit in a packed schedule of playing commitments on top of her massive list of sponsors and her charitable work. Although she is currently under an injury cloud, Maria should claw her way back from Number 9 and be a major threat to those above her.

Rafael Nadal: Until last year, he hadn’t won a Grand Slam other than the French Open, but after one of the greatest tennis matches in history at Wimbledon, things changed. Rafael has a strong lead over Federer in the rankings, but with so many points to defend he may find it difficult to keep the top spot. Nadal is locked into a long term deal with Nike, though I don’t think it’s as much as Fed would be getting paid.

Roger Federer: One of the most successful sportsmen ever may be the biggest surprise packet this year. Federer had, for lack of a better term, an unsuccessful year. This could prove the perfect springboard for him as he doesn’t have as many points to defend. His sponsorship shouldn’t be affected too greatly, as most of the companies would have locked him long term. It could be Federer’s toughest year as there are plenty of players emerging who could still the Number 2 spot, namely Andy Murray, who holds a record over him.

Andy Murray:
Murray had a stellar 2008, with an appearance in the US Open. The Englishman is the must see at Wimbledon for home fans, with the famous “Henman Hill” being renamed “Murray Mountain”. I believe Andy has the game to win a major, and sponsors are lining up despite the economic crisis.

Make or break time:

Lleyton Hewitt: As much as I hate to say it, the Australian’s time on the tour could be running out. Languishing around the 70’s in the rankings, the former No. 1 Hewitt has struggled with poor form and constant injuries. His time on the tour has provided many achievements, and I hope to see him bounce back to challenge for titles.

Lindsay Davenport: Lindsay recently pulled out of the upcoming Australian Open due to giving birth to her second child. It’s unknown whether she will attempt a second comeback.

Players to look out for:

Ernests Gulbis: I first noticed Ernests’ form when he was just outside the 100. The talented Latvian has a Grand Slam win in him, having the game to knock off the big guns. A recent cruisy win over Djokovic certainly helps.

Juan Martin Del Potro: The 20 year old Argentinian burst onto the scene in 2008 with a string of wins to take him into the Top 20. Expect more of the same this year, with top showings in the majors.

Gael Monfils: It’s hard to believe that this guy is only 22, it seems like he has been on the tour much longer. Nike inked a 4 year deal with Gael said to be worth $2 million plus bonuses in 2005 when he was just 18. His deal this year should be at least double that. In 2009, Monfils proved that he can handle the pressure, making the semi finals of his home slam and being competitive against the Fed Express. His talent doesn’t only lie on clay with strong results on all surfaces.

Caroline Wozniacki: Having captured 3 titles in 2008, Caroline broke into the Top 20. At only 18 has a bright future ahead of her. The WTA Tour is so close that it is not uncommon for significant changes of the Top 20 after each tournament.

Casey Dellacqua: Casey made a strong impression in 2008 when she knocked Mauresmo out of the Australian Open. During the tournament, she cited that she didn’t have a clothes sponsor, prompting a swift signing of an apparel deal with Target. Despite a minor injury setback at the end of 2008, the Australian should be competitive through 2009. Dellacqua has one of the most powerful games after the Williams sisters, and that attribute should she her continue her rise and break the Top 50.

2009 is shaping up to be quite a year for tennis. Despite some tournaments (Pacific Life is a major one) losing their title sponsors, individual athletes continue to sign lucrative deals, suggesting that the sport will survive the current financial crisis a bit better than others. Hopefully the second tier Challenger/ Future tour doesn’t see its schedule and prize money decrease, as this will be a good yard stick as how the top tours will succeed.

2 replies on “Anyone for tennis? Representing clients and a 2009 Preview”

Interesting post. I hate to point it out, but you kinda missed a “big agency”: Best, formerly SFX Tennis, reps the likes of Andy Roddick, Fernando Gonzalez, and Justine Henin. The firm has undergone a major expansion in the past couple of years, reaching into more up-and-comers like some of the folks you note in your post. CAA is actually pretty new to the game, but IMG and Octagon have been in it for quite a long time.

I have no idea if you actually talked to any tennis managers when you wrote this or not, but I also have to take issue with what you’re saying regarding deal-making. I would argue that 85-90% of the players on the tour barely squeak by on prize money after paying out for travel, coaching, accomodations, etc. You’re talking about the very exclusive top-tier in this post. Many of these kids, even those in the top 25, are not getting apparel and endorsement deals that are beyond freebies — and often times, that’s all they can hope for. One of a number of marketing ideas has been proven efficient is to use the ‘home court’ advantage when they can by doing local appearances in their home countries, and/or finding nationals when they’re abroad and connecting with them.

One other note is that tennis is probably going to take a hit this year. The global trend is not a rosy one, and much of the major endorsements for the tours and tournaments come from the luxury goods market. Evidence Mercedes dropping the ATP, or many of the finance houses being single-sponsors of tournaments.

Anyway, thanks for the interesting read! I don’t usually blather on in blog comments, but I write a bit about the sports marketing biz on my site and for, so I’m not a casual observer. ;^)

Thanks for the input Lynn, I appreciate your view from a different perspective. I have done some research in the field as I am looking to one day represent athletes in this sport. Generally the only information out there is on the top players, and I highlighted how some funding from national sporting bodies is vital to help players survive on the tour as with flights etc. it doesn’t leave much left in their pocket.
I only highlighted the large stables, because I could have put quite a few more in there and I put in CAA because they are climbing the ranks in the sports industry quite rapidly.
I will definately be bookmarking your sites as they look like fantastic reads!

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