Brand Serena will stay strong post-retirement

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Aug 16, 2022; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Serena Willams (USA) tosses the ball to serve in her match against Emma Raducanu (GBR) at the Western & Southern Open at the at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

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BENGALURU, Aug 28 (Reuters) – The end of Serena Williams’s glittering tennis career will have little to no impact on the American’s brand value and her earnings from endorsements could even surge post-retirement, industry experts have told Reuters.

Williams announced this month that she would end her playing career, with the U.S. Open, which starts on Monday, likely to be her final tournament in the sport she has dominated for over two decades. read more

Sportswear giant Nike has said it will continue to partner with the 40-year-old after her retirement and other major sponsors are likely to follow suit.

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“While Serena’s on-court visibility will fade… I don’t see any drop in her brand value,” said Bob Dorfman, sports marketing analyst at San Francisco’s Pinnacle Advertising.

“More than a tennis superstar, she’s a legitimate icon… (and) she’ll certainly stay top of mind for many years to come.

“The highest-earning female athlete of all time will surely remain a high-powered brand, even after putting down her racquet.”

The only way Williams’s brand value will fade is if she decides to stay out of the spotlight, said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, director of sports management programs at George Washington University.

“But if she becomes a voice of some cause, if she stays relevant and in front of her fanbase, then her value goes up,” Neirotti added.

“She’s been such a powerful player on and off the court… I think she’ll be relevant in social causes.”

MAINSTREAM RECOGNITION

While several elite male athletes have forged successful post-playing career brands, Williams’s accomplishments position her well ahead of other female athletes in terms of her appeal to major sponsors.

“As no other active female player is close to her level of accomplishment, everyone coming up in women’s tennis will continue to be compared with Serena for a long time to come,” said Phil de Picciotto, founder and president of sports agency Octagon.

NBA great Michael Jordan showed that athletes can earn more in retirement than in their playing days, while the injured Roger Federer still tops the list of the world’s highest-paid tennis players despite not playing for nearly 14 months. read more

Few women athletes have had lasting appeal to sponsors after retiring but Williams — who earned $35.1 million this year to edge out former men’s world number ones Rafa Nadal ($31.4 million) and Novak Djokovic ($27.1 million) — should be an exception.

In June, she was named in the Forbes list of America’s richest self-made women with an estimated net worth of $260 million. Her one-time tennis rival, Maria Sharapova, was the only other athlete on the list.

“An athlete’s cache can last well beyond their retirement, especially if they have GOAT (Greatest of All Time) status like Serena has,” said Victor Matheson, sports economist at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts.

With Williams saying she will focus on her family post-retirement, the endorsement deals coming her way may also change, said Iliya Rybchin, partner at marketing consulting firm Elixirr Consulting.

“Serena’s one of those rare players who transcended the sport. Her value to brands is much more than just ‘Serena the tennis player’,” Rybchin added.

“When brands like Wilson, Nike and others first approached her it was all about getting a high-performing, exceptional tennis player.

“Now… the characteristics that are valuable to them are different, because they look at the demographics she’s speaking to and the young players that might be inspired by her.

“For most brands, that story still works, whether or not she’s on the court.”

Williams’ career prize money of $94.6 million is dwarfed by her endorsement income — estimated to be about $340 million — and the ball is in her court as she looks ahead to life without the demands of being an elite athlete.

“She’ll now have the full time and opportunity to expand her sponsor base,” said Larry Mann, partner at sports marketing and media agency rEvolution.

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Reporting by Rohith Nair and Uday Sampath Kumar, additional reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Ed Osmond

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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