Rafael Nadal will be paid $1.5 million to play an exhibition tennis match at Madison Square Garden, a person with direct knowledge of the contract said.
The 11-time Grand Slam singles champion and the third-ranked player on the ATP World Tour will face 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro at the March 4 event.
Serena Williams, a 14-time major champion, will play top-ranked Victoria Azarenka in the first match of the sixth annual event, billed this time as BNP Paribas Showdown.
The $1.5 million for a two-hour performance in an event that often produces more showmanship than shot-making is $400,000 less than the men’s and women’s champions will receive at the U.S. Open, the season’s final two-week-long Grand Slam tournament at the National Tennis Center in New York. The 26-year-old Spaniard is skipping this year’s Open because of nagging knee injuries. The championship started Aug. 27 and is scheduled to end Sept. 9.
“It’s one-man rock-star money,” Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based industry consultant Sportscorp Ltd., said in a telephone interview, adding that only a handful of athletes in tennis and golf could command such a fee. “Everything flows from that -- sponsorship, tickets, everything.”
The person familiar with the contract spoke on condition of anonymity because the fee amounts are to remain private.
Stacey Escudero, a spokeswoman for Madison Square Garden, and Benito Perez-Barbadillo, Nadal’s spokesman, declined to comment on the player’s fee. The person familiar with the contract didn’t discuss agreements for the other players.
It will be Nadal’s first appearance at Madison Square Garden, which houses basketball’s Knicks and hockey’s Rangers and which is in the midst of a $1 billion renovation.
It’s common for marquee athletes such as Nadal and 14-time golf major winner Tiger Woods to be paid appearance fees for exhibition events or made-for-TV specials.
John Isner, the top-ranked American man at No. 10, said in an interview at the National Tennis Center that big-dollar tennis exhibitions are more commonplace in Europe and the Middle East than the U.S. He also said that only a few players beside Nadal, such as top-ranked Roger Federer and No. 2 Novak Djokovic, could command such a fee.
“If someone wants to pay him that, they are obviously getting something in return,” Isner said. “They’re not trying to lose money on an event.”
Isner, 27 years old and never ranked higher than No. 9 in the world, said he plays exhibitions occasionally. He didn’t discuss his pay.
This year’s MSG event featured Federer, the winner of a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles, against 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick, and four-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova versus Caroline Wozniacki, a former No. 1-ranked player on the WTA tour.
Max Eisenbud, Sharapova’s agent with IMG Worldwide Inc., declined in an e-mail to disclose her fee for this year’s event.
Nadal is ranked No. 8 on Sports Illustrated’s list of international endorsers this year, taking in $29 million in prize money and endorsements. Federer topped the list at $51.4 million. Sharapova was the highest-paid female on the international list at $26.5 million.