Sports Marketing: Is The U.S. Open Better With Federer At No. 1?

"What does it take to be Number One?

"Two is not a winner and three nobody remembers."

— "Number One" Nelly

In men's tennis, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal know the answer. And it became a bit less problematic for the first two with Nadal, who did not participate in the recent Summer Olympics, also withdrawing from the 2012 U.S. Open due to chronic knee problems. 

Not just on the court but in marketing and sponsorship deals, as well.

Federer entered the U.S. Open, which runs Aug. 27-Sept. 9, ranked No. 1 in the world, a position he held from 2004 to 2008, again from July 2009 to June 2010 and most recently since July 9. The only other men to be ranked No. 1 during that period: Nadal (August 2008-July 2009, June 2010-July 2011) and Djokovic (July 2011-July 2012).

For the 2012 Open, defending champ Djokovic is seeded No. 2, Olympic gold medalist Andy Murray No. 3 and David Ferrer No. 4.

Federer hits the Open with an impressive roster of marketing partners: Procter & Gamble's Gillette, Lindt, Mercedes-Benz, Rolex, Nike, Wilson and Jura cappuccino/coffee, as well as Credit Suisse and Nationale Suisse. He makes about $25-$30 million in annual endorsements, according to industry analysts.

During the Olympic Games in London, he was featured in Gillette ads. On U.S. Open telecasts he will add new creative that includes commercials from Mercedes-Benz, Rolex, Nike and Wilson. The Mercedes-Benz commercial, "Many Rogers," shows Federer as a man of various personas — tennis player, businessman, father — an image that fans and sponsors have come to embrace.

Fans have embraced Djokovic, but he has had a harder time than Federer on Madison Avenue in attracting companies that play to the general public. Although he recently signed a long-term deal with Japan-based casual clothing brand Uniqlo, and continues to wear Adidas tennis shoes, he also lists among his top alliances upscale watch company Audemars Piguet and airline manufacturer Bombardier. That nets him about $10 million in endorsements.

Nadal's deals include Nike, Bacardi, Babolat, Armani and Kia Motors, putting him in the $18-$20 million annual endorsement range.

Murray, seeking to move up the tennis and marketing food chain following his runner-up finish to Federer at Wimbledon and gold medal showing in London, makes between $6 million and $7 million in endorsements, more than half of that from Adidas.

Helping to open marketing doors in the U.S. for Federer is the fact that American players have been hard-pressed to reach the top tier, especially at Grand Slam events. John Isner, at No. 9, will be the highest-seeded American at the final Grand Slam of the year. Andy Roddick is 20th, Mardy Fish is 23rd and Sam Querrey 27th among the 32 seeded players, according to the U.S. Tennis Association.

Concurrently, while tennis has an image as being a sport that caters to the upper echelons of fans and consumers, it manages to attract followers from all walks of life. The roster of marketing partners for the 2012 Open reflects that mix, including Chase, J.P. Morgan, American Express, Citizen, Emirates, Gatorade, IBM, Mercedes-Benz, Esurance, Heineken, Ralph Lauren and Xerox.

Although Federer was not ranked No. 1 at the time of the 2011 U.S. Open, it was the potential duels among Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray that helped to drive interest. The USTA said that despite having to deal with a hurricane at the beginning of the tournament and then rescheduling the final five days due to two days of rain, the event attracted more than 650,000 fans to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York.

On TV, 53.1 million viewers watched all or part of the U.S. Open on CBS Sports, up 17% from the previous year; and set a new site record for unique visitors (15,421,675) surpassing 2010’s total by 24%, while total visits to the site topped 51.8 million.

And marketers love to see numbers such as those, whether or not they reflect the player who is ranked No. 1.

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