The Girls of Summer

O.K., we know Maria Sharapova isn’t really an American girl. But she lives in Florida, is engaged to an NBA player (granted, one of Slovenian origin), talks a lot of unaccented American slang, and has classic beach-blonde good looks.

But it’s Sharapova’s entrepreneurial outlook, can-do attitude, refusal ever to give up, and classic American rags-to-riches back story that makes us forget she hails from Russia and not the good ole U.S. of A. So, since no real American women are left in the Wimbledon singles draw on its final weekend, after the Williams sisters were both bounced on the same day earlier this week, and as Fourth of July weekend kicks off, we’ll celebrate Sharapova’s American can-do spirit, as well as that of fellow athlete Danica Patrick and the U.S. soccer squad currently competing in the Women’s World Cup in Germany.

Crack open the cold beverage/multimillion-dollar sports sponsor of your choice, and cue the Lenny Kravitz.

The All-England Club Checks off Wimbledon No. 125, Looks to 2012 Olympics

While it’s admittedly one of the most traditional organizations on the face of the planet, the U.K.’s All-England Club, home to Wimbledon, is also forward-thinking. Right now, club executives are looking ahead to the 2012 Olympic Games even as their signature tennis tournament concludes its 2011 fortnight.

In a little more than a year, Wimbledon will transform itself into an official Olympic venue, bringing broadcast technical complexities, heightened security, and logistic challenges. Organizers will have a scant 20 days at the conclusion of the 2012 Championships to restore the club’s grass courts and to rebrand it for the London Olympics. Olympic tennis spectators will likely be much more nationalistic and less decorous than Wimbledon crowds—Olympic tennis events almost completely sold out in the first ticketing round, with the roughly 2.3 million tickets for sale in the current round entailing seats for basketball, boxing, field hockey, judo, volleyball, and Greco-Roman wrestling.

Back in the U.S., Tennis Channel has seen ratings increases in 29 of 37 weeks—in 2010, the cable entity had more than 600 hours more tournament coverage than it did in 2009. Tennis Channel demographics reveal that modern-day tennis is "borderless," that its viewers are virtually agnostic to players’ nationalities as long as high-level tennis is being played on the court—a good thing when no Americans are left in the draw. The cable channel’s income level is high, as well, with average household income near or over six figures. (For sponsors, tennis is always a love match.)

Sharapova’s strong comeback in 2011 likely foreshadows a major presence during the 2012 Olympics tennis events. For now, however, she is focused on a slew of new marketing deals. Last month, Sharapova announced a partnership with Jeff Rubin, creator of Ralph Lauren’s daughter’s Dylan’s Candy Bar, to develop her own line of sweets called Sugarpova and including tennis ball-shaped gumballs and gummy candies packaged in ball-can replicas.

With Caroline Wozniacki, Sharapova is also engaging in Sony Ericsson‘s latest effort to merge sports and entertainment—its Xperia Hot Shots Web-based TV show. The program premiered in March and features a total of six WTA Tour players. Sharapova, Wozniacki, and others are also promoting the Xperia Hot Shots campaign through social media—Sharapova’s Facebook page has close to 4.5 million fans, more than any other female athlete.

Sharapova continues to be the highest-paid female athlete in the world, with an estimated annual income of around $25 million from Nike, Cole Haan, Tag Heuer, Tiffany, and Sony Ericsson. But looking to challenge her in that role is Li Na, French Open winner and fellow IMG client.

Li and Sharapova are both repped by IMG’s Max Eisenbud, who established a marketing blueprint for Sharapova that he will likely draw on for Li. "The win just meant so much in Asia, and there are a number of Western companies and brands [that] have seen it as a way to get into China," Eisenbud told London’s Times last week. "We already had deals with Rolex and Haagen-Dazs and now Mercedes [a deal reported at $5.8 million over three years], and there is a new China deal in the offing that will dwarf those." Eisenbud added that he has "received scores of requests for appearances before the U.S. Open in late August." While he has turned most down, he hinted that Li will receive $200,000 for a short appearance—a haul Sharapova would likely characterize as "sweet."

In other tennis sponsor news, in order to promote its 3D coverage of the Wimbledon finals, Sony is recasting its iconic "balls" ad. Instead of thousands of brightly colored tennis balls bouncing through the streets of San Francisco, as the original ad depicted, the balls will course through the quaint village streets of suburban Wimbledon. The ad campaign will be supplemented by 10,000 Sony-branded tennis balls being handed out in London.

The WTA, finally, has just awarded its season-ending Tournament of Champions to the new Arena Sofia in Bulgaria from for 2012-14. This year’s WTA Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions will be held on Nov. 2-6 in Bali, Indonesia, rounding out a three-year commitment.

FIFA Women’s World Cup

Soccer has long been at the forefront of the world’s "borderless" sports, with its stars coming from all corners of the globe. In the U.S., the sport joins golf and tennis as pursuits in which America currently trails the rest of the world. Our national women’s soccer team, which enters the FIFA Women’s World Cup that gets underway on Sunday, has failed to win the event since its 1999 victory, which turned Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, and their teammates into American celebrities and purportedly ushered in a new era of soccer fanaticism.

America’s 2011 team, almost entirely composed of World Cup novices, is not expected to get past the semifinals. But despite the prospects for Abby Wambach and the rest of the U.S. squad, ESPN is blanketing Germany to cover the tournament, with all 32 games airing either on ESPN or ESPN2 starting last Sunday in Olympiastadion in Berlin. In addition to the Berlin coverage, ESPN will air matches and have broadcast teams present in Dresden—overlooking the historic Church of Our Lady and the Dresden Opera House—the Marktplatz in Heidelberg, the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, and Frankfurt.

ESPN attributes much of its current logistics prowess to lessons learned from broadcasting the 2006 men’s World Cup. As a result of the cable network’s coverage of the men’s tournament, 28 of the 32 games are being called by announcers at game sites, compared with only three during the 2007 Women’s World Cup in China.

For coverage of the U.S.’s first tournament match, a victory over North Korea on Tuesday, ESPN earned a 0.9 overnight Nielsen rating from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET, the U.S. team’s first game of the tournament. On ESPNW, the channel dedicated to women’s sports, a "viewing party" was held around the Americans’ first match. According to Multichannel.com, ESPNW’s set outside ABC’s Good Morning America studios included a green carpet/soccer field that housed bleachers so fans could watch a giant building-side video screen. The pedestrian area "was anchored by kiosks sporting the slogan ‘Because You Love to Play.’" while T-shirt giveaways and other promotional items "sought to raise ESPNW’s profile."

Gone, Daddy, Gone?

On June 24, Bloomberg and other media outlets reported that Go Daddy Group is negotiating to sell itself for more than $2 billion to a private investment group, Silver Lake Partners. Besides being the place where more people go to register their website names than any other Internet domain registry, Go Daddy is best known for the racy marketing campaigns that date back to its first Super Bowl commercial in 2005.

While Go Daddy (in Scottsdale, Ariz.) has yet to deny or confirm rumors of the impending sale, savvy sports marketers have to wonder how it could potentially affect the company’s long-standing marketing relationship with IZOD IndyCar Series and Nascardriver Danica Patrick. Patrick and her management team are reportedly working on a plan that would move her to the Nascar Nationwide Series full-time in 2012 before shifting to the Sprint Cup Series in 2013. Go Daddy, which sponsors Patrick’s current IndyCar and Nationwide cars, is widely expected to stay with her if she moves to Nascar full time—as fellow IndyCar driver Oriol Servia told the motorsports press corps last month, Patrick is "probably the most popular driver in IndyCar or Nascar in the country." But Patrick has yet to win a Nascar race at any level, and you have to wonder whether a change in Go Daddy ownership will mark a change in the tone and focus of its marketing campaigns as well.

This weekend, Patrick will be front and center at Daytona International Speedway, competing on Friday in her next Nationwide Series event and taking her place in Nascar’s grand old Fourth of July weekend tradition.

Wherever Patrick is, fireworks surely follow.

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