There's a lot more than tennis glory up for grabs for the two Canadians in Wimbledon's singles events this week: There are also tens of millions in endorsements to be had, experts say.
Montreal's Eugenie Bouchard punched her ticket to the women's singles final at Wimbledon with a convincing two-set win over Simona Halep on Thursday. Her compatriot, Milos Raonic from Thornhill, Ont., fell short of matching her feat, losing to Swiss player Roger Federer in the semifinals Friday.
Bouchard, however, lost in straight sets to Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic.
The money was likely the last thing on the minds of Bouchard and Raonic as they chased their on-court dreams this past fortnight. But a win at a major — whether it's this Wimbledon or another grand slam in another year — could set the table to propel each of them into the upper echelon of multimillion-dollar endorsements, sports marketing experts say.
"If you win a major, that puts you into a very elite group," says Brian Cooper, president of S&E Sponsorship Group in Toronto. "That's when you start attracting the big ones."
Before reaching the semis this week at the All-England Tennis Club, the 23-year-old Raonic burst on to the scene in 2012 with a few tournament wins, serving notice that Canada had a gangling, tall kid with a blistering serve on the tennis scene.
His early successes led to some small Canadian sponsorships, and associations with tennis-specific brands such as Wilson rackets, Lacoste clothing, and a recent deal with New Balance shoes that's rumoured to be very lucrative. But men's tennis for the last 10 years has been dominated by three names: Rafael Nadal, Federer and Novak Djokovic (the latter two of which will meet in the men's singles final on Sunday.)
So, too, have those big three dominated the sponsorship side of things for male tennis players. The upper echelon of sponsorships from brands outside the tennis world (think: luxury cars, alcohol, clothing and jewelry) is at the moment reserved for them and them alone.
"Those three have taken all the focus, so there really aren't any other tennis stars that have an international following," said Richard Powers, a University of Toronto sports marketing professor.
As Cooper puts it, "If these guys want to become international figures with the Rolex, the Lexus and the L'Oréal contracts, they are going to have to punch their ticket in a major."
A Wimbledon win starts to change all that, Powers notes.
"Both are in an ideal position to attract more and more international sponsors, but you have to crack that Top 10 and stay there, and that means winning," Powers said.
'Feel-good Canadian story' no key to success
One win isn't enough — the key is consistency, Cooper adds.
The example of Canadian golfer Mike Weir can provide a good lesson. He came out of nowhere to win the Masters in 2003. But he has struggled with injuries and has been inconsistent ever since. He's well known in Canada and in the golf community, but few people among the population at large have probably even heard of him today, because he didn't win consistently.
On the other end of the spectrum, there`s someone like Anna Kournikova, the former tennis darling born in Russia. Her good looks gained her a lot of attention and endorsements when she burst onto the tennis scene in the late 1990s. But her on-court career never lined up with those expectations, as she never won a singles tennis tournament — much less a major. And yet, she has racked up tens of millions of dollars worth of endorsements in her life.
"She's famous for being famous," Powers says.
'Both are in an ideal position to attract more and more international sponsors.' - Richard Powers, marketing professor
At 20, Bouchard is even more of a newcomer to the scene than Raonic. But her rise has been much quicker, with Wimbledon being the third straight Grand Slam this year in which she has made at least the semifinals.
Tennis experts say she may have a more complete game than Raonic, which could help her in the long run. As well, she's bilingual in English and French — something that gives her a leg up on being a media darling when the French Open comes around next May.
Unlike on the men's side, there's no clear hierarchy in women's tennis at the moment. Of the last seven majors dating back to the start of 2013, there have been six different winners, with U.S. player Serena Williams being the only repeat winner, winning both the French and U.S. Opens last year.
Sharapova highest-paid female athlete
The door is very much open for a new, marketable female tennis pro. Russia's Maria Sharapova is currently the highest-paid female athlete on earth, winning $2.4 million in prize money this season, but also raking in $22 million worth of endorsements every year.
There's no reason Bouchard can't beat that, Cooper says.
"A pretty face, or a feel-good Canadian story doesn't have the sustainability," he says. "If she can handle the winning side of things, she can absolutely be the highest-paid female athlete in the world."
Bouchard has a number of small endorsements, such as with Canadian frozen food company Pinty's, and she recently signed a Canadian endorsement deal with Coca-Cola Canada. But some larger relationships, such as with sportswear icon Nike and racket manufacturer Babolat, are up for renegotiation soon.
A win in Saturday's Wimbledon final would have been a step toward pushing those endorsements into the stratosphere.
"But she needs to be a Sharapova, not a Kournikova," Powers quips. "She has to win."