Tennis ball sitting on top of two 100 dollar bills

Sponsor-ama: Following the Money in Tennis

Unique Tennis Pro Sponsorships

Tennis players aren’t paid like many professional athletes. They don’t earn yearly salaries or sign multimillion dollar team contracts. Competing at a high level is expensive, and tennis players are basically self-employed. Prize money is key, but sponsorships account for the biggest pay days in tennis. It’s almost impossible to stay in the game without a lucrative deal or two… or ten? And sometimes competing for sponsors is as tough as a Grand Slam match. Players must keep winning to secure support. Stay in the top ten and you’re golden. Players on the way up—or down—must get a bit creative. Overall, we’ve noticed some interesting financial partnerships that speak to the popularity of the game worldwide, and others that allow players to express who they are and what’s important to them.

Danielle Collins has been sporting a new logo on her tennis gear. Formerly with New Balance, the American player is now working with the Austrian company waterdrop. Selling glass and steel water bottles with nutrition cubes to ‘drop’ in, waterdrop is all about reducing plastic waste and offering alternatives to sugary beverages. Flavors include electrolyte and energy blends with natural caffeine. Known for her feisty on court persona, Collins might consider the calming Zen blend with thyme and lemongrass. Or maybe the Focus cube with green coffee and lime—she forgot the ten-point third set tiebreak rules at the Australian Open this year and celebrated winning a match before it was over. (Thankfully, she did win the second-round contest after resuming play.)  In a post-match interview, the University of Virginia grad admitted to getting confused about scoring rules we feel you, Danielle. At least she was able to laugh about the misunderstanding. Win or lose, Collins’ matches are always exciting, thanks to her explosive groundstrokes and true grit.

Since Collins started working with waterdrop, more tennis players have partnered with the firm. Novak Djokovic, who you may have heard of, and Taylor Fritz have signed waterdrop deals. But in a twist on the tennis sponsorship equation, Djokovic said he believes so deeply in waterdrop’s mission he’s going to act as brand ambassador and invest his own money into the company.

professional tennis stadium

Another interesting sponsorship involves the entire WTA tour.  Tennis fans will have heard of the on-going controversy over Chinese player Peng Shuai. Soon after accusing a government official of sexual misconduct, Peng wasn’t seen or heard from publicly, except through an official message that was ultimately deemed inauthentic. The WTA responded by refusing to hold any tennis tournaments in China until Peng was shown unequivocally to be safe and free. This decisive action caught the attention of Stephen MacMillan, CEO of Hologic, a medical diagnostic tech firm with a social conscience. The WTA’s support of Peng so impressed MacMillan that Hologic signed a huge contract to become the prime WTA sponsor for years to come. Hologic is dedicated to reducing ‘healthcare disparities’ across the globe by providing greater access to modern diagnostic tools and has started an initiative to focus on the health of female athletes. The saga continues as the WTA seeks new ways to pressure China beyond a complete boycott of the region. We'll all stay tuned.

Sponsorship shifts are also noteworthy—often alerting us to interesting, less-mainstream brands. For example, Iga Swiatek, the number one player on the WTA tour, recently signed a deal with On Running, a high-performance shoe and apparel company that is expanding into the tennis market. The Swiss-based firm already has some serious tennis cred–one of their top investors and collaborators is Roger Federer.  Players Sloane Stephens and Sophia Kenin both saw their big name (Nike and Fila, respectively) sponsorships recently come to an end. The two are now working with Free People Movement, an athletic wear line from Free People, the ‘boho-chic’ clothier.  The collection has pieces that won’t be seen on everyone else at the tournament or tennis club, such as the high-waisted, flouncy Get Your Flirt On skirt which looks super cute and comfy.  Donna Vekic parted ways with Nike but isn’t sweating it—she’s designing her own tennis clothes. She signed a deal with the international brand UomoSport to help create a new women’s collection called DonnaSport. 

Sponsorship champ Naomi Osaka made headlines by becoming the highest paid female athlete, edging out former number one Serena Williams. The Japanese player’s intriguing personality and sense of style have helped her attract sponsors beyond tennis, including Louis Vuitton, Nissan, TAG Heuer, MasterCard and Beats Audio, earning her over $50 million between 2021 and 2022. What’s truly notable is that she’s remained marketable despite taking a break from tennis. The latest news–Osaka gave birth to daughter Shai this summer. Her fans have also been excited to see that she’s recently been hinting at a tennis comeback on social media. Osaka’s global celebrity has clearly transcended the game, leading to some unconventional partnerships involving her favorite non-tennis activities. A passionate gamer, she teamed up with the makers of Fortnite to create an Osaka character for the popular video game. The character’s clothes have been designed ‘to pay homage to her Japanese and Haitian heritage,’ according to Vanity Fair magazine.  

sponsored tennis racquets

Source: Cristina Anne Costello - Unsplash

Sure, it’s still standard practice for players to vie for the tennis ‘big four’ – shoe, apparel, racquet, luxury car and/or watch sponsorships.  (Yes, this is paraphrasing from the movie Jerry Maguire which famously outlined the ‘four jewels of the celebrity endorsement deal.’) But when players team up with less predictable sponsors, we often get to know more about them. American phenom Coco Gauff is supported by Italian food giant Barilla Pasta, for example, (among many other sponsors, including New Balance), and the company’s website features photos of Gauff making her favorite spaghetti recipe. And if you’d like to experience a truly sublime tennis sponsorship, google ‘Matteo Berrettini makes Caprese Salad.’ In a collab with the olive oil giant Colavita, the charming Italian tennis player is filmed doing just that--and hitting a tomato with a tennis racquet in the process.  

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