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Oohs and Oz: This Year's Australian Open


By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

January 18, 2013

It’s January, it’s the Aussie Open, and as always happens at the year’s first pro tennis tournament down in the land of Oz, a slew of companies choose to advertise and/or activate around the event; athletes use it as the year’s first major branding opportunity as well. Melbourne Age notes that in the days leading up to the year’s first Slam, Melbourne was “buzzing with off-court appearances by the biggest names in the game in pursuit of the lucrative dollars that come with their endorsements.”

World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka’s Lagadere team announced a multiyear endorsement deal with Red Bull, making her the jumpy beverage giant’s first tennis player. Vika joins high profile Red Bull endorsers such as the Clippers’ Blake Griffin, Giants’ pitcher Tim Lincecum, and Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

In London, fellow WTAers Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Kirilenko, and Laura Robson stepped out on the world’s first mirror tennis court, created by adidas to promote its first tennis collection by English designer Stella McCartney (aka Sir Paul’s daughter).

Gael Monfils switched to Wilson/Asics from Prince/K-Swiss, Milos Raonic hopped from Lacoste to New Balance, and Fila, faced with the retirement of Kim Clijsters, the face of its women’s tennis collection, signed German comer Julia Goerges instead. The ATP and Emirates, finally, formally announced a partnership making Emirates the official airline of the ATP World Tour, as well as the new title sponsor of the ATP Rankings and select other designations.

Online, the Australian Open itself is making its strongest effort yet to engage tennis’ biggest growth market: China, and its 14 million active participants. Tennis Australia staffers are harnessing China’s social networks, including Sina Weibo, “the Chinese equivalent of Twitter,” to post hourly news clips, video, photos, and live scoring. It certainly helps the Aussie, which bills itself as the Grand Slam of Asia and the Pacific, that China’s two top players, Li Na and Zheng Jie, continue to advance, with Zheng beating Australian sweetheart Sam Stosur in an intense second round three-setter.

But like the Super Bowl, nothing is more fun than new TV commercials that jump on the back of a Slam to amaze and delight. This year, Apple turns to racquet sports and a couple of well-known sisters to promote a privacy feature on its new iPhone 5—the spot joins a pantheon of our favorite tennis-themed ads, presented here. Since we couldn’t really choose one over another, we ranked them in order of YouTube views to date:

1) Rafael Nadal vs. Cristiano Ronaldo, Nike Football, 2012, 10,347,416 views. This Spanish language ad for the Nike Mercurial Vapor VIII boot features two of the world’s biggest athletes going head-to-head in a battle of forehead, foot, and explosive speed. www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Y_wJR1I-9s

2) Roger Federer vs. the Fake Coach, Nike, 2008, 2,382,710 views. There’s an absurd imposter intruder in Federer’s impeccable ultra modern house. The always cool and elegant Fed attempts to thwart him www.youtube.com/watch?v=mulAi7cno2Y

3) Andy Roddick vs. Pong, American Express, 2006, 801,991 views. Roddick takes on an oversized version of the world’s first home gaming obsession, Atari’s Pong. Will slow and steady win it? www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UfGpt-0ncc

4) Billie Jean King vs. the Caveman, Geico, 2010, 117,141 views. King triple bagels the hapless Geico caveman. www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPPfYKbO-1M

5) The Williams sisters vs. Jeff Daniels, Apple, 2013, 3,501 views (after one week). The iPhone 5 spot features actor Daniels talking about "how great it is not to be interrupted by a call” when he’s dreaming about besting Venus and Serena at ping pong. www.youtube.com/watch?v=26tqm6-PZFo

Through ads like these and other marketing vehicles, the world’s leading tennis players, for the most part, earn more money off the court than on it. A September Forbes report revealed that out of the ten highest-paid tennis players, eight had a higher off-court income, with 75% of their earnings coming from endorsements and personal appearances.

Federer was listed as earning $9.3 million on court, and $45 million off it, through last July, while the best compensated woman, Maria Sharapova, earned $5.1 million on court, $27.1 million off.

Federer and Sharapova are both barreling through the Australian Open draws, hoping to increase those already-impressive numbers by claiming the record $2.65 million check for the men’s and women’s singles champions this year. Even first round losers made out okay, receiving $28,900, up almost 33% from last year, plus an additional $1,000 for travel expenses, from the tourney’s total purse of $31.5 million.

Not bad for a few days’ work under the warm sun Down Under.




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Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
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