Feature: Ana’s endorsements

Feature: Ana’s endorsements

“Being a professional tennis player is about so much more than hitting balls,” said Luke Jensen, doubles grand slam champion turned ESPN commentator.

Not many children grow up dreaming of taking part in photoshoots or appearing in commercials, rather the idea of winning Wimbledon is what motivates most budding tennis players. However, without sponsors the sport as we know it doesn’t exist. “If you don’t have sponsors, you’re not here today,” said Jensen at last year’s US Open.

Tennis has four main sources of revenue: ticket sales, corporate hospitality, media rights and sponsors. The latter two go hand in hand, with brands relying on media exposure to market their products. In return for this visibility, sponsors pour money both into the sport’s coffers and into the pockets of the players.

In fact, the millions of dollars in prize money that is on offer each week in women’s tennis is largely due to the investment sponsors have made in the sport, none more so than title sponsor Sony Ericsson, who last year signed a six-year deal with the WTA Tour worth some $88million. “It was really great for the sport,” said Ana. “We are very lucky that they chose us.”

Ana, like many others players, has been specially chosen by a number of brands to endorse their products. The most lucrative deal for a tennis player is usually her clothing contract. Ana recently signed an agreement to wear adidas apparel and she is thrilled with the move. “I am delighted about the collection,” said Ana, who began wearing adidas clothing at the beginning of the year.

“It is extremely stylish and good quality and uses my favourite colours like purple and blue. It is quite suitable to my personality. The design is particularly impressive, feminine and comfortable to wear.”

How players are signed up to endorsement contracts varies. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of professional tennis players are far from wealthy. For example, Yulia Beygelzimer, who finished 2005 ranked 151, made just $70,992 in prize money last year. When flights, accommodation and coaching fees are factored in, that figure is halved at the very least. It is here that having sponsors to provide equipment and in many cases financial aid and training facilities - adidas' performance institute is one of the top training facilities in the world - is essential.

With that in mind, it is not uncommon for agents to approach potential sponsors, while players with exceptional talent are regularly scouted at junior events by representatives of clothing and racket manufacturers and given free equipment. Manufacturers refer to players as “partners”, and it is their hope that they will remember such generosity and stay loyal to the firm throughout their careers.

Ana has been loyal to her racket manufacturer, Wilson, for over a decade. She has been playing with the American firm’s rackets since she was six-years-old. “We grew up together,” said Ana, who first signed a contract with the manufacturer in January 2002 when she was aged 14. “I have been looked after by Wilson and I also found that their rackets are perfect to sustain my style.”

Wilson is equally appreciative towards Ana. Massimo Calvelli, the brand’s Tour Marketing Manager, said: “She has huge potential. She has a great personality and she’s very nice and friendly with people. Last but not least she is a beautiful girl. The whole package is really valuable for a company like Wilson.”

Whereas rackets are the tools upon which tennis players rely, one might argue that they will wear anything so long as they are being paid to do so, but that is not necessarily the case. If a player does not feel comfortable in her clothing, both physically and emotionally, she is unlikely to perform to her peak.

Ana explained: “It is quite important to look good on the court. The whole package comes into account – an exciting game as well as a good presentation. It certainly builds confidence.”

For adidas, Ana’s signing represents something of a coup for it lured her away from archrivals Nike, whom it also beat to the re-signing of Andre Agassi last year. Agassi has made more money in endorsements than any player in the history of the sport – his last contract with the American giant was reportedly worth $120million over 10 years, which positively dwarfs the amounts of money given to even the most established top 10 players.

Another company that Ana has a strong relationship with is Juice Plus+, a Swiss supplier of natural vitamin and mineral supplements. “They really help me,” said Ana, who usually takes four capsules a day – two fruit-based and two vegetable-based. “I think it’s really important for every sportsperson to get enough vitamins and minerals. Juice Plus+ gives me a perfect balance.”

‘Balance’ is one of the watchwords in a new range of adidas clothing for which Ana is described as “the figurehead”. The Youth On Court range is a collection aimed at young athletes who demand both style and performance. “She will bring our younger, more fashionable styles to life,” said Simon Cartwright, adidas’ Global Business Unit Manager for Tennis and Indoors and the man partly responsible for deciding which players the manufacturer targets.

“Tennis is the No.1 global sport for women and it is important to have the right symbols to build the whole brand’s image with female consumers,” explained Cartwright.

“The right symbol needs to be highly talented with the potential to reach the top 10 and be a good role model in style and behaviour. It is a lot to ask from an 18-year-old but Ana has it all”.

By Gavin Versi