Why Wimbledon star Eugenie Bouchard could outscore Sidney Crosby in sponsorships
Charisma and global reach of sport key to landing lucrative international deals
Even though Eugenie Bouchard lost the women's final at Wimbledon, she is still poised to go global with corporate sponsorships in a way that probably eludes other Canadian sporting stars.
The 20-year-old tennis phenom from Montreal represents a unique combination of athletic ability and charisma in a sport with worldwide appeal, all factors that industry experts say contribute to making certain athletes a prime draw for international companies seeking a fresh face to sell their brand.
"If you take a look at Genie's global potential versus that of a Sidney Crosby, you would actually see Genie in a better spot," says Steven Lewis, president and co-founder of XMC, a Toronto-based sponsorship and marketing company.
"I think over the long run [she] may actually outperform even our top hockey players when it comes to overall sponsorship dollars."
There's no doubt there's a lot of commercial potential on the line for Bouchard, who became the first Canadian women's singles player to make it to a final match at Wimbledon. The Montrealer lost to Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in straight sets.
Her ability to follow in the footsteps of Maria Sharapova, the Russian tennis star who topped Forbes' 2013 list of the world's highest-paid female athletes at $29 million — of which $23 million came from endorsements — has been touted for a while.
- Eugenie Bouchard reaches Wimbledon final
- Eugenie Bouchard, Milos Raonic may see Wimbledon endorsement windfall
Bouchard "is an incredibly talented athlete, and a very marketable brand ambassador for any company that wants to get involved with her," Stacey Allaster, chief executive of the Women's Tennis Association, told the BBC business website back in January, just after Bouchard made it to the semifinals of the Australian Open.
"I do believe that with her winning form and continued success that many brands will look to Genie for partnerships."
Charisma makes a difference
Beyond the importance of that winning form, however, there are certain personal qualities — as well as a freedom from controversy — that companies look for when they want to sell everything from sneakers to soda pop.
"I think it's really the charisma of the athlete that makes a big difference because it's a company looking for somebody to be associated with their brand," says Cary Kaplan, president of sports management firm Cosmos Sports in Mississauga, Ont.
For Kaplan, that means being "personable," something he says Bouchard has shown.
"It's early and she's very young, which plays to her advantage," says Kaplan. "But she seems charismatic.
"She's not afraid. She's very comfortable in interviews. She doesn’t seem shy, and that's sometimes the challenge."
On that point, Kaplan looks to Tim Duncan, the standout power forward player for the San Antonio Spurs who has racked up five National Basketball Association championships, but is "very reserved."
"He may be one of the two or three best players in the NBA," says Kaplan. "He's probably 25th in sponsorship."
'Rise above the clutter'
Another key to sponsorship potential is the way athletes present themselves.
"Certain individuals have an energy or an aura about them that help them rise above the clutter," says Lewis.
"I think it's a positive attitude... If you take a look at Genie as an example, there is an energy that she shows that's incredibly attractive to sponsors."
But no matter how personable athletes are, their potential to go global is also influenced by the range of their sport.
And that's where Bouchard could outscore the likes of other high-performing Canadian athletes such as Crosby, the Cole Harbour, N.S., native widely regarded as the best professional hockey player on the ice right now.
"The challenge with hockey is that it's not a world sport. It's only really played seriously in a dozen countries," says Kaplan.
Not so with the sport favoured by Bouchard and compatriot Milos Raonic, who also made it to the Wimbledon semifinals this year.
"Tennis is one of those sports where fans are attracted from around the world," says Lewis. "If you take a look at Genie's success to this point, she's actually developed quite a global following, which is really impressive, and so I think that her future will expand well beyond our borders."
Would they know you in Brazil?
That's not to say Crosby, or one of his most high-profile hockey predecessors, Wayne Gretzky, have been slouches in the endorsement department. But they don't have the global reach of a Sharapova.
"Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby can walk down the streets in Brazil and nobody would know who they are," says Kaplan. "If you're the No. 1 tennis player in the world, you couldn’t do that."
Other Canadian athletes have scored well in the endorsement world, including soccer star Christine Sinclair and Clara Hughes, a multiple Olympic medallist who just finished her "Big Ride" across Canada on her bicycle to promote awareness of mental health issues.
Lewis says Sinclair and Hughes are "great, great athletes, incredible spokespeople," but "their interest from a sponsor's perspective is almost exclusively driven from inside our borders."
Still, any athletic sponsorship is always something of a risk. Companies that signed on athletes such as golfer Tiger Woods or cyclist Lance Armstrong to be their public face would never have anticipated their falls from grace.
Adidas has said it will reconsider its sponsorship of Luis Suarez after he bit another player during a World Cup soccer match last month.
"At the same time, when you choose wisely, it's great to be able to ride the zenith and the crest of an individual's career," says Lewis.
"When we talk about Genie, who's the woman of the moment, it's really a rocket ship and the time to get on I think is right now."