Murray Shows Titles Don’t Guarantee Sponsors as U.S. Open Nears
The hottest player in tennis can match forehands with the men he’s joined atop the ATP World Tour rankings, if not international marketing dollars.
Andy Murray is the second man in the past 100 years to simultaneously hold tennis’s three most-esteemed titles -- an Olympic gold medal, and U.S. Open and Wimbledon championships. The 26-year-old Scot’s recent success hasn’t improved his consumer appeal in America, according to marketing experts, and global endorsement contracts are yet to follow his on-court wins.
As Murray prepares to defend his U.S. Open title in New York starting Aug. 26, he lacks the allure of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who have won at least six Grand Slam titles apiece and routinely draw 22,000 fans for night sessions at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, marketers and tennis analysts say. Murray, seeded No. 3, has the third-best odds to win the season’s final Grand Slam behind Djokovic of Serbia and Nadal of Spain, according to bookmakers.
“Andy Murray had to fight really hard to catch up with the Big Three on the court, and now he has to fight to match up with them in the eyes of fans,” Darin David, a senior director in the Dallas-based sports marketing group of The Marketing Arm, said in a telephone interview. “He’s now a multiple Grand Slam winner, so maybe he’ll start making inroads, but it’s a tough hill to climb.”
He follows in the footsteps of Australians Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Roy Emerson and Ken Rosewall, other players from a British Commonwealth nation, who won a total of 38 Grand Slam singles titles in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. The mustachioed Newcombe became a U.S. commercial face for Canon cameras.
The last British tennis player to make a commercial splash in the U.S. was Virginia Wade, who won the Wimbledon women’s title at the height of the tennis boom in 1977. She appeared in an ad campaign for the American Express Co. (AXP) charge card that asked, “Do you know me?”
Wade’s agent, Duncan March, didn’t immediately return an e-mail message seeking comment on Murray’s sponsorship chances.
At the U.S. Open, Murray’s ability to draw crowds might be challenged even more because of injuries and poor play among other top players who are crowd favorites. Federer, a five-time champion from Switzerland and winner of a men’s record 17 Grand Slam singles titles, has slipped to No. 7 in the rankings, and Maria Sharapova, a former champion from Russia and holder of the career Grand Slam, withdrew two days ago with a shoulder injury.
Murray’s endorsement portfolio is almost unchanged since he won Wimbledon last month, becoming the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win the London tournament. His contracts with Adidas AG (ADDYY), Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, racket supplier Head NV and watch manufacturer Rado Uhren AG earn him roughly $12 million annually, according to Nigel Currie, a sports marketing executive at BrandRapport in London.
Murray signed an endorsement deal yesterday with Fuse Science Inc., a Florida-based energy products company that sponsors top-ranked golfer Tiger Woods. Financial details weren’t released. Currie said he expects Murray will add to that, and could increase earnings to $24 million by 2014.
Pam Shriver, a former Grand Slam doubles champion and now an ESPN tennis analyst, said she considers Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Olympics to be tennis’ three most revered titles. She compared Murray’s stardom in the U.K. to royalty and said his laid-back personality is a contrast to those of the other elite players, including Djokovic, the world’s No. 1-ranked player whose sense of humor is as well-known in tennis as his powerful forehand.
“In Scotland, I think he’s probably the greatest athlete times four,” Shriver, an American, said of Murray in a telephone interview. “I don’t think he’s looking to be the way Djokovic is with the personality, dancing with the crowd or the impersonations. That will never be Andy Murray.”
The awareness of Murray among U.S. consumers following his Wimbledon win grew to 20 percent from 17 percent earlier this year, according to Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Q Scores, which measure consumer appeal. That trails Federer (38 percent) and Nadal (26 percent), as well as U.S. champions Serena Williams (67 percent) and Andre Agassi, who is known by 53 percent of U.S. consumers seven years after retiring from tennis, Schafer said.
Murray said this week that business endeavors are secondary to training and that he expects to finish new deals between the end of the U.S. Open and the start of the Australian Open in January.
“When I have time to do the off-court stuff, I’m more than happy to, but I’ve just spent a lot of time training and in the gym,” Murray said in an interview in New York this week.
He was promoting the BNP Paribas Showdown, a tennis exhibition set for Madison Square Garden in March where he’ll play against Djokovic. Financial details weren’t disclosed but Nadal, the world’s No. 2-ranked player, was paid $1.5 million to play in this year’s edition, according to a person with direct knowledge of the contract.
Murray was the first client of XIX Globosport, a joint venture between Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment agency and Globosport, founded by 12-time Grand Slam doubles champion Mahesh Bhupathi. The partnership, formed in April, was created to explore opportunities in developing markets around the world, specifically India and the Middle East.
Bhupathi, from India, said in an e-mail that they were in the process of closing “a few deals” that will be announced later in the year. While he declined to comment further, he told India’s Open Magazine this month that he is focusing on long-term deals that will extend beyond Murray’s retirement. He said Murray is “the one with the muscle.”
“If people want to be associated with him, they have to be open to creating deals that will show his value way past his playing career,” Bhupathi said, according to the magazine.
Long-term loyalty is important to Murray. He said RBS, Head and Adidas have all supported him for at least a decade, before he broke into the top 200.
“There’s no need to rush into doing things,” he said. “You want to work with companies that you have a feeling towards.”
Djokovic and Nadal are co-favorites at 2-1 to win the U.S. Open, according to online sportsbook Bovada.lv. Murray is third at 7-2.
Cliff Drysdale, a former player and now an ESPN tennis announcer, said that while he expects Murray to add sponsorships, the Scot lacks the public personality of Federer, a 32-year-old from Switzerland with what Forbes magazine says is a tennis-high $65 million in endorsements.
“He’s not as outgoing,” Drysdale, a South African, said on a media conference call. “It doesn’t look like he enjoys the game as much as others, so that’s a slight negative.”
David, of the Marketing Arm, said Murray has started to shed that stiff image. He cried on the court after losing to Federer in the 2012 Wimbledon final, then won an emotional gold medal on the same grounds at the Olympics one month later. Before this year’s Wimbledon, Murray appeared in a documentary in which he discussed the March 1996 shooting at his primary school in Dunblane, Scotland, that left 16 students and a teacher dead. He generally avoided previous public talk about the massacre.
Murray turned professional in 2005, broke into the ATP’s top five in 2008 and has remained since, spending 16 weeks this year as the world’s No. 2 player behind Djokovic. He’s won two of the past four Grand Slams and earned $5 million in prize money this year, trailing only Djokovic and Nadal.
Currie said if Murray continues his current trajectory, the endorsement opportunities will grow. He said the dominant player in a global sport such as tennis can expect to make about $75 million annually in endorsement deals.
“Companies were waiting to see if he could crack it, and he has now,” Currie said in a telephone interview. “He’s in a good position to build on that further, and if he gets to the point where he’s won four or five Grand Slams, then you start talking about an all-time great and one of the sport’s top earners.”
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