#360Business: Tennis superstars helping secure ace deals

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Perfect image: Roger Federer and his fellow players have helped push the sport forward.

Men’s tennis is attracting more sponsorship money than ever before, according to the ATP commercial director and ATP CEO Europe Laurent Delanney.

Just last month in Dubai, the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) announced their latest addition to their list of sponsors – Maui Jim, who have signed on as the official eyewear provider for the tour on a three-year deal.

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This is the second new sponsorship deal for the ATP this year, with Australian company SKINS, signing an agreement to become the official compression garment of the tour, early last month.

Since 2009, the ATP’s commercial revenue has increased by 215 per cent and Delanney attributes that significant growth to the players that are reigning at the top of tennis at the moment, like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have both proven to be the perfect ambassadors for the sport.

“Frankly it (commercial health of the ATP) has never been better. The appeal, the attraction of tennis as a sport is very good thanks to fantastic champions that we have on court,” Delanney tells Sport360 in Dubai. 

“We’re able to benefit from that. Sponsors see tennis as being a good sport, with a good image, very international, with a good audience. No bad news. As they look around, a lot of history, a lot of heritage, and whether it’s associating with the ATP or associating with the tournaments or players, there’s lots of different opportunities that are very flexible to meet the objectives of a sponsor.

“I know at the ATP we have the greatest number of leading multinational brands today. We have a group that is stronger than ever. Why that is? I think that the Roger generation with Rafa is maybe particularly strong. Maybe the choice of tennis versus the other sports has grown. I think it has a lot to do with the global presence of the sport. There aren’t that many sports that offer, under one roof, a programme like we do. 

“You have some sports that are popular in some markets, not in others. You have some global sports but they’re very fragmented in the way they’re organised from region to region. So for a company that’s looking for an international programme, tennis comes out as a good consistent option. Sponsors look for consistency a lot. 

“They don’t want it to be different, it’s too hard to manage. The tour’s presence in 35+ markets, with 60 tournaments, offers the sponsors to do that.”

Roger Federer (L) and Rafa Nadal (R).

The Federer-Nadal era is undoubtedly one of the strongest – if not the strongest – in the history of the sport. Is there any worry the ATP could suffer financially when they retire?

“It’s usually a very natural transition from generation to generation. It’s also natural that fans around the world wonder what will happen when the big stars retire. But throughout my career, I’ve seen it happen with generations past, where people wondered ‘what will happen when (Boris) Becker and (Stefan) Edberg retire?’ ‘What will happen when (Pete) Sampras and (Andre) Agassi or (John) McEnroe and (Jimmy) Connors retire?’” says Delanney.

“But after each time, you have some stars that come up and we see today stars from new markets like Kei Nishikori from Japan. Grigor Dimitrov, fantastic, beautiful game, great ambassador for the sport. 

“And as Federer and Nadal will retire, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are going to play for a number of years still. And already those young players are knocking on the door. 

“So it will take a few years for the public at large to get to know them, to be used to them in the way they have a 15-year history with Roger. But it will happen. It’s not a source of concern for us, as special as the current generation is.”

ATP CEO Europe Laurent Delanney (R).

Delanney explains how the ATP has undergone a transformation over the past decade, which allowed the organisation to diversify their sponsors.

“As far as the number of sponsors, it’s more complete than before. Initially the ATP really had one main sponsor – the sponsor that’s on the net (Mercedes Benz). Today we not only have that sponsor, but we have a pool of a dozen other sponsors, and those sponsors represent today more revenue and also more promotion for the sport than the premier sponsor on its own,” he says.

“So it’s allowed us to diversify, to work with different companies and not to have just one sponsor. And that’s a development in the last 10 years that has happened.”

Huge brands like Rolex, Emirates and Tecnifibre signed deals in 2013, while the ATP renewed contracts with Enel and FedEx and inked a new partnership with Vixlet in 2014.

Delanney says the Middle East is one of the ATP’s priority markets and sees their deal with Emirates – which expires at the end of 2017 – as a thriving relationship.

Emirates are the official airline of the tour and sponsor the ATP rankings. 

“Emirates is one of our best examples where it makes a wonderful statement for the sport, when a leading brand sponsor chooses your sport,” says Delanney.

“Emirates is involved with leading premier sports only, when they are your partner, it’s a good message on the sport. 

“They sponsor the Emirates ATP Rankings, that is 52 weeks a year, every week you have new stories that come out about ups and downs and the rankings, who has been No1 the most weeks etc… that ties together all the different tournaments. It gives them the year-long tour that we have. The rankings is so much at the centre of the tour. 

“The ATP rankings is one of the most famous sports rankings. People know that the ATP rankings are the tennis rankings. And to be No1 in our sport is a great achievement. And not only that, but for players it’s their working tool, it’s what determines if they get into a tournament or not. So it’s fundamental to our sport and it allows Emirates to be there, at the core of the sport.

“The UAE is a growing market, it’s growing in the sense of popularity and the interest in the sport is also growing with the very good tournaments that we have in this region that allow fans to see wonderful player fields with really the top players in the world, so it’s seeing the tour at its best. 

“And that has created a growth with markets that are just more and more important global economic platforms. The relationship with Emirates is one example of the possibilities. 

“And when you fly into Dubai, you see the growth, you see the energy, you see the development. It has to be a priority.”

While the Middle East has grown more important for the tour in recent years, it is the farther parts in Asia that are the real target for expansion at the moment. The ATP currently host eight tournaments a year in the Asian continent, six of which are in China, Japan, Malaysia and India. 

“So many sports leagues or multinationals are turned towards the huge potential that China represents – Asia generally.

“It is as in every region or country, to have a local champion is so important. And it would move the needle so much. So it’s probably where there’s the greatest potential for growth and for that reason a lot of focus is turned towards that region,” says Delanney. 

“Our most mature market would be Europe and the United States and we need to continually reinforce and maintain the presence there. In the Middle East, in Asia, there is a lot of room for growth. And also South America is important because of Mexico, Brazil. We had a tournament in Rio and Acapulco last month. Those are big markets.”

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