Rafael Nadal has a problem. It has nothing to do with sore knees or a recent virus that left him bereft of energy.
Despite being tennis' World No. 1 and Power 100 No.16, Nadal has an awareness dilemma. Although his appeal is currently higher than that of Roger Federer (tennis' World No. 2; Power 100 No. 15) among avid fans, Nadal's awareness is well below average for all tennis players measured.
Looking more closely at the Federer-Nadal comparison by the Nielsen/E-Poll N-Score numbers, Nadal's on-court jump was double-digit, while Federer dropped about 50 spots, an accurate reflection of the on-court action in 2010. Nadal won each of the last three Grand Slam events and rose to World No. 1, while Federer won only one of the last five Grand Slam events after winning 15 slams from 2004 to 2009.
In the off-field rankings, Nadal slipped about 30 spots while Federer rose by 20. Why? Despite Nadal's recent success on the court, Federer continues to have a higher "Awareness" rating. Oddly enough, as Nadal continues to win tournaments, he becomes less popular. Conversely, as Federer fails to win tournaments, he becomes more popular. Avid tennis fans are clearly behind Federer— even more so when he's the underdog.
Winning tournaments certainly boosts one's bottom line. The ATP World Tour website lists Federer's career prize money at $61.2 million and Nadal's at $37.4 (after seven fewer years on Tour). But Federer's best strokes have come in Gillette razor commercials and in an additional TV ad that had him slipping Swiss (of course) Lindt chocolates through airport security.
Off the Court, Federer Dominates
Federer also counts Wilson, Mercedes-Benz (DAI), Credit Suisse (CS), and Rolex as sponsors to the tune of an estimated $18.5 million in annual off-court earnings. (His 10-year Nike (NKE) deal alone is worth about $100 million.) The Swiss star's high profile in the U.S. is likely helped by a dearth of top American players, outside of Andy Roddick. The ever-elegant Fed is a good match for sponsors seeking to reach tennis' wealthy, cosmopolitan demographic.
Tennis has a relatively small audience. To become a marketing powerhouse as Federer has done, the muscle-bound Nadal will need to find crossover opportunities to reach American consumers.
Nadal makes about $15 million annually off the court from endorsement and appearance fees. His sponsors, led by Nike, include Kia Motors (000270:KS), Babolat, Lanvin, and French watchmaker Richard Mille, who crafted a $525,000, limited-edition watch for Nadal (which he promptly lost).
Perhaps Nadal's and Federer's side-by-side Power 100 rankings are a numeric affirmation of their exceptionally friendly rivalry. They've often rallied for each other's causes, even playing back-to-back exhibition matches in December for their respective foundations in Zurich and Madrid. They hold the top leadership positions on the ATP players' council.
This year, in fact, may well bring a turning point for Nadal's "Awareness" numbers. Last week new sponsor Giorgio Armani released the first promotional photos from an Armani jeans and Emporio Armani underwear campaign featuring the shirtless Spaniard, who is replacing Cristiano Ronaldo as the brand's face. The sexy black and white shots were an instant Internet sensation, giving "tennis whites" a whole new meaning.
Click here to see the world's most powerful athletes in the 2011 Power 100.