Emma Raducanu’s fairytale run at the US Open has not only made her the new darling of British tennis but also among the hottest properties in sport for sponsors.
The 18-year-old from Bromley could become the first Englishwoman to win a Grand Slam since Virginia Wade in 1977 when she faces fellow teenager Leylah Fernandez on Saturday night.
That she has reached that point in only her second major tournament, having had to come through qualifying – a first for the sport – and without dropping a single set has made her whirlwind campaign all the more astonishing.
Raducanu’s fearless displays in New York have also proven that reaching the second week of Wimbledon earlier this year just weeks after joining the WTA Tour full-time was no fluke and, say industry experts, unlocked serious earning potential.
“She is in the fortunate commercial position of being able to appeal to most brands in the marketplace, not just from a UK perspective either,” says Matt Gentry, agent to Andy Murray. “For her, it’s about picking ones that resonate with her, her beliefs and passions.”
Raducanu’s package of youth, looks, personality and intelligence make her a marketer’s dream, while her international background – she is mixed race and was born in Toronto before moving to England aged two – gives her global appeal, not least in her mother’s native China.
“Raducanu’s success at the US Open will undoubtedly boost her earning potential,” says sports sponsorship expert Neil Hopkins
“If, as is projected, she moves up at least a hundred places on the world rankings, she has the chance to become not just a huge name in British tennis but a truly global star. That’s where the really big sponsorship dollars are.”
Raducanu heading for top where stars can earn $60m a year
Tennis can be enormously lucrative for those at the top. Naomi Osaka banked an estimated $60m last year, more than any other player, male or female, according to Forbes.
Of Osaka’s income, $55m is attributed to her portfolio of more than 20 sponsors, which includes Google, Mastercard, Louis Vuitton, Tag Heuer, Nissan, Levi’s and Nike.
Raducanu has already guaranteed $1.25m in prize money at the US Open and will double that if she beats Canadian Fernandez in New York this weekend. She will also be due a bonus from Nike – one of her two sponsors, along with racquet maker Wilson – that sources say is likely to run to five figures.
That is just the beginning, however. Raducanu, who is set to go from No150 to No32 in the world rankings, will now have the chance to expand her suite of commercial partners if she chooses, with household and high-end brands as well as banks and insurers likely to be at the front of the queue.
“Financial services is a lucrative sector. There will be plenty of fast-moving consumer goods brands that would be keen as well, same for fashion brands,” says Gentry, managing director of Murray’s agency 77 Sports Management.
“When choosing a partner, it’s not always about taking the most amount of money, though. There are lots of major brands out there which would happily invest significant marketing dollars behind her, which is important for any athlete brand strategy.”
While sponsors may be beating a path to her door, Raducanu and her team would be best served taking their time in choosing the right partners, adds Gentry.
“She only turned professional five months ago, so her focus must be on developing her tennis and gradually dipping her toe in the market with the right brand partners over time. There is no rush.”
Dazzling though her introduction to the elite circuit has been, Raducanu would not be the first British prospect to see their early promise fizzle out. Key to her joining the game’s highest earners will be her ability to stay at the top of women’s tennis, insiders agree.
“Performance will drive everything, but she’s perfectly placed to capitalise on that away from the court if she wants to,” says Gentry.
Hopkins, global head of strategy at M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment, says: “The real test is whether she can become a consistent performer at the highest possible level.
“I cannot emphasise enough the importance of consistency when talking about an athlete’s commercial appeal and Raducanu will want to ensure she achieves this by competing week in and week out in the WTA Tour as well as the Slams.
“If she does then she’ll not only become an incredibly valuable asset to major sponsors but she’ll also provide an answer to the question hanging over British tennis: after Andy Murray, where is the next potential Grand Slam winner going to come from?”