Slamming Down UnderRick Horrow and Karla Swatek
1. Net Gains: Tennis at the Australian Open
One year ago, the world's tennis elite opened their hearts and their wallets to help ease the pain of a Caribbean nation torn apart by a devastating earthquake—"Hit for Haiti" exhibition matches convened in Melbourne and later in Indian Wells, Calif., helped raise tens of millions of dollars for Haitian relief efforts and cemented the reputations of the ATP and WTA tours as first responders among the world's community of athletes.
This year, the 2011 Australian Open, the first Slam and thus the unofficial opening of the tennis season, started with a similar quest, as pro tennis players led by Roger Federer staged a "Rally for Relief" exhibition on Sunday to raise money for the victims of devastating floods in the Australian state of Queensland—much closer to home than Haiti for most, as The New York Times noted, especially "when they saw Pat Rafter Arena, where many of them played the Brisbane International last week, under water."
More than 15,000 attendees watched such stars as Federer, Rafael Nadal, Kim Clijsters, Andy Murray, Justine Henin, Ana Ivanovic, and Aussie natives Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Stosur rally and banter for the cause. "Joker" Novak Djokovic borrowed a camera from a courtside media photographer, while Andy Roddick coaxed a referee to take his place on court. About $750,000 was reportedly raised at the event, matched by government agency funds and enhanced throughout the tournament, as the players continue to auction off racquets and shirts and donate generously for every ace they serve.
The players' pockets won't be empty for long. This year's Australian Open will offer a $24 million prize pool, the biggest in its history. Looking to the future, Emirates Airlines is interested in securing title naming rights to the season-opening major. Kia (KIMTF) is the "major partner" of the Open until 2013, while V Australia is the official airline partner through 2013 as well.
Melbourne Park is undergoing a $350 million renovation to ensure future Australian Opens beyond 2016. The biggest beneficiary of the improvements is Margaret Court Arena, which will install a retractable roof and increase capacity from 1,500 to 7,500. Back stateside, the USTA has approved a similar $300 million overhaul of the National Tennis Center over the next eight years, including a renovation of Louis Armstrong Stadium that will make it "roof ready."
2. Ad ATP
The ATP World Tour earned a $28 million profit in 2009, primarily from expensive fees charged to tournaments to remain in the top two tiers. The profit was reported in the Tour's tax return. The returns also revealed that ATP Chairman Adam Helfant made $1.4 million in his first year running the organization. The year under Helfant kicks off with a new marketing campaign: The ATP last week unveiled "Game On," marking the start of the 2011 season. The broadcast, digital, and print campaign depicts stars Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Roddick, and Murray posing as warriors competing in a fantasy stadium.
Beginning in 2012, the ATP will expand its offseason to seven weeks—at least for two seasons, and more if the players have their way. The longer break was approved by the ATP board of directors at its London meetings in late November; the ATP Players Council, led by Federer, Nadal, American Sam Querry, and Chilean Fernando Gonzalez, has been lobbying for a longer recovery period between seasons for some time. The council also represents the interests of the ATP's lower-tier tours, including Satellites, Futures, and Challengers. Another issue front and center for the ATP World Tour and its players in 2011: the growing influence of China, including big-dollar "Asian swing" tournaments in Beijing and Shanghai, and the country's player pool, which has grown from 1 million to 10 million active players since 2004.
While the men in tennis are hardly fashion plates like their female counterparts, you can't help but notice them at this year's Australian Open, as the men's color of choice in Melbourne seems to be the same blinding Tweety Bird yellow by the tournament's ball boys (and girls) and line judges. Such players as Andy Murray are noticeably sporting shirts with no sponsor logos or patches on the sleeves—Murray is between sponsors at the moment, having reached the end of his deals with RBS and Highland Spring. And one notable is soon to be shirtless—world No. 1 Rafa Nadal has been named the face of Emporio Armani Underwear and Armani Jeans for the Italian fashion label's upcoming spring/summer 2011 collections. The first campaign featuring the 24-year-old Spaniard wearing only the jeans and/or underwear will be launched in February, no doubt giving "tennis whites" a whole new context.
3. Ad WTA
For better or worse, the appearance of WTA players has often taken precedence over their abilities on the court. From quasi-fashion show tournaments to the enduring phenomenon of Anna Kournikova—still one of the most-searched names on the Internet years after quitting the WTA and despite never having won a pro singles title—women's tennis has definitely followed the "form over function" mode.
The WTA itself is now playing that game—with its logo. The women's governing body has a new logo this year, which includes only the letters WTA, shifting attention from sponsors to the Tour itself. The new logo is being fully integrated throughout the WTA, including in TV graphics, print materials, tournament branding, advertising, and digital/social media. Continuing that "fly high" mindset, low-fare airline Jetstar last week agreed to a three-year, multimillion-dollar deal to become the first official airline partner of the WTA and its tournaments across the Asia Pacific region through 2013. The airline is the third new sponsor the WTA has signed in the past 12 months.
Ever more international, the WTA's 2012 ad 2013 schedules include 54 tournaments in 32 countries—a far cry from the sparse 25 tournaments their counterparts on the LPGA have been able to field this year. (Maybe there is something to be said for tall Russians in short skirts.)
Speaking of which, even though she has dropped a bunch of ranking points since her 2009 shoulder surgery, Maria Sharapova—thanks to her strong marketability—still tops the money list among all female athletes. Analysts estimated that in 2010, Sharapova earned more than $24 million—less than $700,000 of which came from tennis tournament winnings. Besides her latest on-court Nike (NKE) apparel, Sharapova at the Aussie Open is sporting gold and diamond drop earrings designed for Tiffany (TIF) by architect Frank Gehry (cost: US$4,030). The earbobs should coordinate wonderfully with Sharapova's enormous engagement ring from New Jersey Nets guard Sasha Vujacic.
No. 1-ranked woman and fellow fashionista Caroline Wozniacki is powering through her Aussie Open rounds in a white Ten Performance Dress that's part of Adidas' (ADS:GR) Stella McCartney SS 11 collection. And FILA will mark 100 years of tennis participation by dressing tournament favorite Kim Clijsters in an update on a green ensemble once worn by Evonne Goolagong, one of tennis' early sartorial sensations.