Event Analysis: Grand Slams
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posted on January 31, 2019
Tennis sponsorship is an always interesting, but not always industry-indicative subset of the sponsorship industry. It’s perhaps true that tennis is grouped with sports or events like golf, equestrian, or America’s Cup when discussing sponsorship strategy and reach. As we go through the partners of these tournaments at the pinnacle of tennis, it’s important to remember that: you’ll see crossover with some of the major sports leagues or teams of the world, but you’ll also see other sponsors getting a much higher billing than they might outside the subset mentioned above. These four tennis tournaments – the Australian Open, the French Open (Roland Garros), the Championships at Wimbledon, and the US Open – comprise the top level of tennis talent. Especially in the past decade, when we’ve seen such dominance by so few, winning just one has been many player’s dreams (of course, on the other hand, you have Roger, Rafa, and Serena going for history, but still.)
We’ve compiled a list of common categories - and each tournament’s sponsor(s) - below.
Sources: Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open
Our chart does not, of course, include a full list of each tournament’s sponsors. This is in part because those lists vary significantly in length (more on that later), but also because those not included were typically singular category sponsors for one tournament. Those are important to analyze for comparison, but this blog will largely be concentrating on the similarities between sponsor categories for these tournaments rather than differences.
The pinnacle of tennis success lies in each player’s ability to win these tournaments (preferably more than one). Currently playing, there are several players who fit that distinction, and a few going for the record books. Some are dominant longer than expected (note: the past ~15 years with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray, also known as the Big 4, on the men’s side and ~20 or so years with Serena Williams on the women’s). On the men’s side, certain players seem to have an affinity for a particular slam, you’ll see the evidence below. Of the players mentioned below as champions, their current rankings (1/21/19, reflecting both ATP and WTA rankings, mixed) are as follows: Djokovic (1), Petra Kvitova (2), Nadal (2), Juan Martin del Potro (4), Federer (6), Marin Cilic (10), S. Williams (11), Maria Sharapova (29), Venus Williams (34), Victoria Azarenka (51), Stan Wawrinka (57), Murray (225), Kim Clijsters (retired), Justine Henin (retired), Pete Sampras (retired).
Some sponsors have seen the same type of longevity as players, and some have even see the same level of excitement.
In the past 20 years (1999-2019), the Grand Slam of Asia and the Pacific has had nine different men’s players and 13 different women’s players take home the trophy. Six times in the past 10 years Djokovic has won the men’s tournament, with one winner outside the Big 4 (Wawrinka in 2014). For the women, S. Williams tops out the leaderboard in that same timespan with three wins, and Azarenka is the only other repeat winner.
Major Partner Kia has enjoyed similar longevity at the Australian Open as the Big 4. First signing on in 2002, the auto brand is currently signed through 2023 on a five-year extension negotiated last year. When signing this newest contract, Kia worked to emphasize its commitment to experiences for fans – though these will be worldwide and not confined to the tournament grounds in Melbourne. This deal, along with another signed with Louzhou Laojiao, is estimated to be worth around $60million (USD) over the five year period. Louzhou Laojiao is an Associate Partner for the tournament. At the time of the signing with the Chinese spirit brand, Tennis Australia’s CRO indicated it was one of the largest deals the governing body had negotiated.
Signed through its 20th anniversary with the tournament is timekeeper Rolex; this milestone will be celebrated in 2027, the year the contract is currently scheduled to expire. Given Rolex’ commitment to tennis, we feel it’s unlikely the brand will let go of its rights at the Slam, but a lot can change in eight years. As timekeeper, Rolex receives prominent signage, as you’ll note in the video showing Wawrinka below. Rolex first activated at the Australian Open in 2008, and works to integrate both onsite and through AO’s digital and broadcast options. This brand will come up multiple times (for each tournament, in fact), and is also the title sponsor Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters men’s ATP 1000 tournament.
On the men’s side, the French Open has had fewer different winners in the past 10 years than the other Slams, though it’s 20-year winner amount is similar at 10 (note: 7/10 and 11/15 years have had the same winner: Nadal). The women’s side is a completely different story, 15 different winners in the past 20 years (and three repeat winners in S. Williams, Sharapova, and Henin). Like Melbourne, Wawrinka is the only male player outside the Big 4 who has won the tournament in the past 10 years, lifting the trophy in 2015.
BNP Paribas, Roland Garros’ Main Partner, first signed on with the tournament in 1973 and is signed with its current designation through 2021. The bank has been dedicated to tennis sponsorship worldwide, as the current title or presenting sponsor of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, Internazionali BNL Italia in Rome, Italy, TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup/Open, and BNP Paribas WTA Finals. It was formerly the title sponsor of the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California (now renamed and moved to San Jose), as well, under one of its brands. BNP is part of Roland Garros’ modernization efforts on the grounds, and the banking brand aims for digital innovation and international activation of its sponsorship. Recently, it launched the “BNP Paribas Young Talent Team” in cooperation with the French Tennis Federation (FFT) supporting youth tennis in France.
Other notable deals at Roland Garros include longtime and/or premium partners Emirates, Lacoste, Peugeot, Rolex, and Perrier. The former four are considered Premium Partners at Roland Garros, while Perrier is an Official Partner of the French Open. Three of these brand – Lacoste (1971), Peugeot (1984), and Perrier (1978) - are longtime partners, while Emirates and Rolex are comparatively new additions to the sponsor family. That is particularly true with Rolex, as the brand took over from Longines as official timekeeper just last year after the former brand’s contract expired after a 10-year partnership. Interestingly, when Emirates signed on with Roland Garros, terms were not disclosed, though an FFT official did note the sponsorship agreement exceeded the organization’s minimum tariff of €3 million. Emirates’ deal is most notable for the level of signage it receives, especially given the angle of most broadcasts. From that statement, we can assume each of these partners pays annual fees in excess of that amount.
We've only found two firm dates on expiration: Lacoste in 2025, and Perrier – last year. We have not yet been able to find evidence of a renewal (excepting the brand’s continued presence on the website), but feel it is likely a valued partnership given the long history and Perrier’s big activation spend as recently as 2017 on the Eiffel Tower Smash zipline during the French Open. Rolex’ deal, announced last year, was reported as multi-year, as was Emirates. Like Perrier, Peugeot’s long association with the tournament indicate an ongoing relationship. Peugeot is also involved with other tournaments and runs its “Drive to Tennis” campaign in conjunction with these sponsorship deals.
Wimbledon has been a majority-Williams tournament on the women’s side – though not always the same Williams. Venus and Serena have combined for 12 wins in the past 20 years; only one other player (Kvitova) on the women’s side has lifted the trophy more than once. Federer has eight Wimbledon trophies, other male player’s with more than one in the past 20 years include Murray, Djokovic, Nadal, and Sampras. In the past 16 years, no men’s player outside of the Big 4 has won at Wimbledon.
The way Wimbledon operates its sponsorship portfolio contrasts with the other three Slams, at least at first glance. Almost similar to the Olympics, it has one brand designated one official supplier category – and currently has a fairly limited category list. This contrasts with the Australian Open, which has multiple alcohol and equipment sponsors, and with all three when looking at the total number of sponsors. See Wimbledon’s "Official" list below:
- Ball: Slazenger (1902)
- Soft Drink: Robinsons (1935)
- Information Technology: IBM (1990)
- Champagne: Lanson (2001)
- Outfitter: Ralph Lauren (2006)
- Bank: HSBC (2008)
- Water: Evian (2008)
- Coffee: Lavazza (2011)
- Beer: Stella Artois (2014)
- Car: Jaguar Land Rover (2015)
- Ice Cream: Haagen-Dazs (2016)
- Partner: Pimm’s (2017)
- Payment Partner: American Express (2018)
While this does limit the amount of sponsorship dollars Wimbledon is able to take in, it also makes for a familial and engaging sponsorship family. Brands do not have to compete with each other in this much less busy environment, and it has even sparked some cobranded campaigns (which you know we love). Official Water Evian and Official Ball Slazenger combined on a play off of Evian’s “Love Young” campaign, offering sleeves Official Wimbledon tennis balls in a contest. Evian also used its partnership with Sharapova to promote that same campaign.
While at the French Open, officials and line judges wear Lacoste, at Wimbledon they’re dressed in gear provided by Official Outfitter Ralph Lauren. The clothing brand did a London-style activation, outfitting a double-decker bus in cobranded Ralph Lauren/Wimbledon gear and allowed fans to engage throughout the city. Plus, we're not sure it ever really hurts to be written up by GQ.
Two things you’ll notice about the list above: 1) Wimbledon clearly values its long-term partners, and 2) Rolex isn’t listed. We know, but we promise the brand really is a sponsor and has completed the Career Grand Slam. We’re not trying to mislead you.
On another note, Wimbledon is well-known for its digital and social marketing prowess. Like, really well known. And that means its select partners are able to benefit from that ability and reach. And that’s resulted in some pretty cool campaigns like Jaguar’s #FeelWimbledon or Stella Artois’ Fly Like Rufus.
The US Open is the “most” widely contested Slam on the men’s side, the tournament has seen three winners (del Potro, Wawrinka, and Cilic) outside the Big 4 in the past 10 years. Repeat winners reads similarly to the other Slams, however, with both Djokovic and Nadal at three wins each, and Murray rounding out as the tenth winner. Federer holds five US Open titles in the past 20 years as well. As has been the trend, we’ve seen more different winners on the women’s side, though we do have repeat champions in S. Williams (6/20), Clijsters (3/20), V. Williams (2/20), Henin (2/20).
Of the tiering sponsors, the US Open is the only tournament to have multiple sponsors in its top tier; these brands include: American Express, Emirates, and JPMorganChase. Chase is soon to be one of the most visible, securing rooftop logo placement on the main stadium’s retractable roof – only just completed last year. This deal was not overly surprising in the industry, JPMorganChase has long been spending – and spending big – including what was at the time the largest deal in tennis (2007’s $90million/6year deal), which has since been eclipsed.
Chase may be the biggest spending, but Amex is likely the most engaging sponsor. The brand works to engage all guests (though especially card holders, and even more specifically, specialty card holders) in a number of different ways. The credit card brand has been a partner of the USTA since 1994, working on everything from the US Open to grassroots tennis together. It debuted “Super Rally,” a VR game where THE Venus Williams gives a participant virtual coaching last year. Amex opened a new Centurion Suite, and also gave cardholders Amex Bands – a contactless payment method – to use.
As at the other tournaments it sponsors, Emirates receives significant on-court signage, resulting in a lot of broadcast eyes. But it also gave fans a fun opportunity to engage last year with #EmiratesAce, a Dubai-themed onsite activation as well as the Emirates Sports Cafe, a place to cool down (perhaps particularly relevant given the new heat policy). As of 2017, Emirates moved its tennis sponsorship money around in New York – moving to a primary focus on the US Open. The brand had previously been the title sponsor of the US Open Series (the Grand Slam preparatory tournaments). While retaining presenting sponsorship of Hawk-Eye cameras at those tournaments, Emirates has earmarked its money to instead pay for signage and media placement.
“Grand Slam” Sponsors : Rolex & Lavazza
Two sponsors have achieved what only the best players aspire to: multiple calendar year Grand Slams. Of course, this feat on the sponsor side requires a slightly different skill set, say killer negotiation skills rather than a sweet backhand, and a healthy budget instead of an unstoppable serve. It’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges, but all the same, only two sponsors have currently managed the feat (it does look like a third is in the hunt, however!)
One of these Grand Slam Sponsors is synonymous with tennis: Rolex. Long a stalwart of the timekeeping category (though with previous market share at this level with brands like Longines or Citizen), Rolex has signed deals with all four Grand Slams as of 2018. Rolex is a brand fitting of the description above, typically concentrating on sports like tennis, golf, equestrian, and horse racing in its sponsorship portfolio. Other relevant sports where you may see Rolex (or a competitor) are swimming or other timed events. However, tennis (and golf, equestrian, and horse racing) are of particular interest based on Rolex’ brand image: each of these sports have a very different brand and perceived audience than do the Big 4 sports leagues or athletics.
Coffee brand Lavazza hasn’t seen quite the categorical competition as has Rolex, but nevertheless, it is still the category sponsor at all four Slams. Also, and this is a side note (but with a picture!), Lavazza might have done the coolest food-based activation we’ve ever seen.
In the Hunt: Emirates
Emirates has been able to sign on with three Grand Slams, and most promisingly for the brand, the fourth tournament does not have a current deal in the category. (Perhaps less promising is that particular tournament’s habit of limiting sponsorship categories). With deals in place at the Australian, French, and U.S. Open tournaments, Emirates has found a way to connect at locales far beyond its home base – and most importantly, beating out airlines with ties to each tournament country (think: Qantas or Air France or United). To be fair, Emirates does have a much longer resume when it comes to international sponsorship than any of those brands (check out our Category Analysis: Airlines for more information).
Strategy by Rights Holder
The same three tournaments structure their sponsorship strategies similarly, and the same holdout remains when it comes to sponsorship designations and tiering. The Australian and US Opens have three tiers for sponsors, essentially translating into major sponsors, official partners, and suppliers; the French Open splits its partners into four tiers, adding a level between its top partner and its official partners, with a premium designation.
Wimbledon operates on an exclusivity model; it partners with one brand per designation. Even on its website, the tournament does not imply one sponsor is more important than another by tiering, it instead lists sponsors by date of partnership chronologically (and does not seem to imply Slazenger (first partnership in 1902) is in any way more important than American Express (partnered in 2018).
There are multiple categories filled at each tournament, though not by the same sponsor. Typically, these are high-value categories in both the sport of tennis and elsewhere. We’ll look a little closer at the categories spoken for at least three of the four tournaments.
Fully Filled, Not Fully Aligned
Four of four tournaments have filled four of four categories. We’ve already analyzed one (you can find it here), with plans for the others because these categories represent some of the largest and most popular in all sports, not just tennis. These are:
- Credit Cards (Mastercard/Australian & French Opens, American Express/Wimbledon & US Open)
- Water (Ganten/Australian Open, Perrier/French Open, Evian/Wimbledon & US Open)
- Banking (ANZ/Australian Open, BNP Paribas/French Open, HSBC/Wimbledon, JPMorganChase/US Open)
- Automotive (Kia/Australian Open, Peugeot/French Open, Jaguar Land Rover/Wimbledon, Mercedes-Benz/US Open)
Bolded brands above indicate those that are the primary or a top-tier sponsor for the respective tournaments; italics indicate a premium sponsor, though not primary or top-tier, depending on each tournament’s classification. As discussed previously, Wimbledon does not tier its sponsors, and so none are highlighted here.
Nearly Full with a Myriad of Brands
Similarly, there are popular filled categories at a majority of Grand Slams – though there are also categories that are less common in other sports and events as well. Perhaps unsurprisingly, three of the four Slams have official Hotel and Beer sponsors:
- Hotel (AccorHotels/Australian & French Opens, Westin/US Open)
- Beer (Coopers/Australian Open, Stella Artois/Wimbledon, Heineken/US Open)
Outside the norm, you’ll notice these two categories are fill at three of the four tournaments as well: Champagne and Ice Cream. We are attributing these categories as popular at these events due to the audience (champagne) and typical venue and season (ice cream, outdoors and warm). Like the two categories above, one category has three different sponsors, and one has two sponsors, with a single brand signing with two tournaments.
- Champagne (Piper-Heidsieck/Australian Open, Möet Hennessey/French Open, Lanson/Wimbledon)
- Ice Cream (Häagen-Dazs/Australian Open & Wimbledon, Magnum/French Open)
We do find it notable the US Open does not have a sponsor in either of these categories. Champagne (or sparkling wine, as the case may be) would, we believe, be an attractive deal for a California winery; similarly, the US Open often records quite high temperatures – making ice cream an attractive buy for its onsite guests.
Sponsor No More
As we’ve mentioned, the Grand Slam tournaments do see some sponsor attrition. A few of the most notable brands include IBM, Longines, and Citizen. IBM currently sponsors both Wimbledon and the US Open, but dropped out of relationships with the Australian and French Opens just this past year. This was reportedly done so due to an “over-concentration” on tennis in the IBM sponsorship portfolio.
Two long-term timekeeping sponsors also stepped out of their deals last year. Allowing Rolex to complete its Career Grand Slam, Longines (French Open) and Citizen (US Open) opted out of continuing contracts. Longines had been with Roland Garros for 10 years, while Citizen had been at Flushing Meadows even longer (25 years).