Rafael Nadal may pass Roger Federer as tennis’s top earner after completing the career Grand Slam at the U.S. Open.
Nadal became the seventh man to win all four majors with his four-set victory over Novak Djokovic at the National Tennis Center in New York on Sept. 13. At 24, Nadal is also the youngest winner of the career Grand Slam since tennis turned professional in 1968.
“He will transcend even the Federer brand,” Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports business strategy and marketing at the Coventry University Business School in England, said in an interview. Chadwick estimates the Spaniard’s latest title may boost his earnings by as much as $20 million a year to $41 million.
Federer, a 29-year-old from Switzerland, has won a men’s- record 16 major singles titles, and is the sport’s leading male brand and top earner. Forbes Magazine in August estimated his annual earnings at $43 million, including prize money, appearances and endorsement deals with companies led by razor-blade maker Gillette Co., carmaker Mercedes-Benz, Swiss watchmaker Rolex Group and Nike Inc.
Nadal brought in $21 million from prize money and sponsorships with companies led by Mapfre SA, Spain’s largest insurer; South Korea’s Kia Motors Corp.; French racket manufacturer Babolat; and Nike Inc. That put him third on the list of best-paid tennis players, trailing Maria Sharapova, the Russian is in second place with $24.5 million.
Nadal has already overtaken Federer in the tennis rankings. The left-hander reclaimed the top spot on the ATP World Tour from Federer by taking his fifth French Open title in June. Nadal went on to win his second Wimbledon in July and cemented his place in tennis history with his first U.S. Open title and ninth major championship. Federer dropped to third in the rankings this week after losing to Djokovic of Serbia in the semifinals in New York.
Targeting the U.S. “is going to be our focus,” Fernando Soler, head of the tennis division at IMG Worldwide Inc., said in an interview.
New York-based IMG, which according to Soler signed Nadal when he was 11 years old, also represents Sharapova and Federer.
“Again he proved to everybody that he has no limits,” Soler said from Barcelona, Spain. “He is an amazing ambassador for any brand, and I think that it is our obligation now to target the U.S. market and deliver, for him.”
Nadal has nine sponsors, with only Nike and Lanvin men’s fragrance’s owner, Inter Parfums Inc., based in the U.S. There is room for “one or two more” sponsors, Soler said.
Image in U.S.
“We try to analyze with our sales group in the U.S. the companies that share the same values as him in the U.S. market, and try to approach these companies,” Soler said. “Making sure they are blue-chip companies that fit him and he fits the company.”
Soler said it is “very difficult” to estimate how much the U.S. Open title would boost Nadal’s earnings.
Dressed in jeans and a dark-blue polo shirt while holding his U.S. Open trophy, Nadal gave interviews in fluent English to a half-dozen American media outlets the morning after his victory.
The U.S. Open title and completing the career Grand Slam “will definitely help to increase his image in the U.S.,” Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Manhasset, New York-based Marketing Evaluations, Inc., which measures popularity and appeal among consumers, said in an interview.
In a survey of the general U.S. population released by Marketing Evaluations at the start of September, the Spaniard was recognized by 24 percent of respondents. Although Federer was recognized by 37 percent, Nadal has “a broader appeal,” said Schafer.
Nadal’s recognition among the general American public will probably be closer to 30 percent when the company conducts its next survey in January, Schafer said.
“Nadal has a strong appeal with teenagers, 10-11 year-olds as well as adults,” Schafer said. “Demographically, he’s got more flexibility than Roger Federer for different types of products and services.”
Nadal shuns the limelight when away from the courts. He still lives in Manacor, Majorca, the town where he grew up. When he’s not on tour, he goes fishing with friends or plays golf.
Federer, who speaks four languages, is more comfortable in the public spotlight and has attended fashion shows with Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour. Pop singer Gwen Stefani and her husband, Gavin Rossdale, regularly sit in his private box during matches.
Whether Nadal will beat his rival at the bank may depend on how much time the Spaniard devotes to new endorsements.
“The question is, does Nadal have the personality to engage in commercial activity in the same way as someone like Federer?” Chadwick said. “In many ways, the decision is in Nadal’s hands. What he seems to hold valuable and true -- which is playing tennis first and commercial activity second -- may come under severe pressure.”