Four months into her first Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) season, Emma Raducanu made history by winning the US Open. Now talent managers and branding experts say the $2.5 million pay cheque accompanying the 18-year-old’s first Grand Slam victory could soon be dwarfed by earnings from sponsorships and brand endorsements. The win already puts her among the highest-earning athletes this year.
“Emma Raducanu’s earning potential could quite simply make her the highest earning tennis player and sportswoman ever in the world. I predict career earnings in excess of $1 billion, eclipsing both Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova,” says Prof Jonathan Shalit OBE, chairman at the UK talent agency InterTalent Rights Group.
The celebrity agent has represented British double gold Olympic boxer Nicola Adams. “Predicted career earnings for Sharapova, who is 16 years older than Raducanu, are estimated at $325m over 20 years. So, it is relatively easy to see how if Raducanu remains on her current trajectory, $1bn-plus in the same period is more than achievable.”
Indeed, a mere 10 days after winning the US Open without losing a set, the new British number 1 was named brand ambassador for Tiffany & Co, the American luxury jewellery retailer owned by LVMH. The endorsement added to her existing deals with Nike and Wilson.
“It’s such an iconic brand and one that I’ve felt connected to for quite some time,” Raducanu said at a British Vogue event. “I wore the ring, bracelet, earrings and cross necklace throughout the tournament. These pieces will always be very special to me.”
The jewellery company, which already has partnerships with Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Tracee Ellis Ross and Anya Taylor-Joy, did not disclose the value of the endorsement deal. It operates retail stores in the UAE, Europe, the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Japan, besides conducting direct sales over the internet and through catalogues and business gift operations.
Raducanu was born in Toronto, Canada, to finance professionals of Chinese and Romanian origin. She was raised in Orpington, England, and is a product of the British tennis system. Experts say that diverse background could help brands such as Tiffany & Co reach new markets around the world.
“Emma Raducanu connects to multiple markets, her Asian-European heritage coupled with an upbringing in the UK means she represents a diverse audience,” says Kelly Lundberg, a Dubai-based personal brand expert who works with chief executives and entrepreneurs in the UAE.
Right after she made history as the first qualifier in the Open Era to take home a Grand Slam singles title, Raducanu saw her Instagram followers more than double to 2 million.
“She is a marketer’s dream with an exciting career before her. Everyone loves an underdog story and people of all ages connect with her authenticity and vulnerability. She has an inspiring young image with huge appeal,” Ms Lundberg says.
The Zoomer’s age, youth and height work in her favour, says Jawann Oldham, a former NBA player who coaches university students in the UAE as director of Gold Medal Basketball Academy and Sports Systems.
“The US Open was a great launch pad for Emma Raducanu. She has the power, strength and conditioning to go the extra mile and her endorsement potential is off the scale,” Mr Oldham says.
Raducanu certainly serves a good game, backed by an impressive team. She is currently managed by sports and talent management company IMG, where she is represented by former ATP Pro Chris Helliar and Max Eisenbud, senior vice-president of tennis.
The company also represents Novak Djokovic, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams. Mr Eisenbud also managed Sharapova before her retirement, representing her when she was the world’s highest-paid female athlete for 11 consecutive years.
When Sharapova defeated Williams to win Wimbledon at the age of 17 in 2004, the Russian player’s only sponsors were Nike and Prince. Following her victory, her Nike deal doubled, according to Forbes, and her annual earnings jumped to $18m from $3m, helped by endorsements from the likes of Tag Heuer, Canon, Motorola and Colgate-Palmolive.
Sharapova went on to become the biggest attraction on the WTA Tour, commanding up to $500,000 for exhibition matches before retiring last year at the age of 32.
For her part, Williams has 20 corporate partners, besides earning $94m in prize money, a staggering amount that is twice as much as any other female athlete. This summer, the American added sandwich restaurant Subway to that list of endorsements just before her 40th birthday.
Given her impressive form, she could continue playing for several years yet and remains a remarkable marketing juggernaut, although rumours of an impending retirement have been swirling around the courts recently.
“Tennis is a forerunner in gender equality in sport and provided she keeps winning, this is just the beginning,” Ms Lundberg says. “It feels like many of the top players are in the twilight of their careers and so there are open spots ready for a new breed of champions.”
Osaka, who has been named the highest-paid female athlete with $60m in earnings over the year to June, received $55m in endorsements, according to Forbes. That sees her tie with Tiger Woods in 12th spot on Forbes’ list of the world’s 50 highest-paid athletes. She ranks before Williams at $41.5m (including $40m off the court), as well as ahead of Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
The only other woman among the 10 top-earning tennis players over the past 12 months is Australian Ashleigh Barty, who this year added Wimbledon’s Venus Rosewater Dish to her 2019 French Open trophy. The UK victory garnered £1.7m ($2.3m), a substantial chunk of Barty’s $5.8m salary over the year to August.
Similarly high-profile female athletes, such as gymnast Simone Biles, golfers Ko Jin-young and Kim Sei-young Kim, footballer Megan Rapinoe and tennis player Garbine Muguruza, all earned between $4m and $6m last year, according to a separate estimate by sports business publication Sportico.
By some estimates, Raducanu’s net worth is $6m, meaning she could already be in the top 10-earning female athletes three years after turning pro and almost as many months into her first WTA season.
Mr Shalit sees brands from the leisurewear, sports, health and fitness and lifestyle segments knocking on Raducanu’s door.
“Traditionally, male tennis players have earned far more on the tennis court than women but that gap is closing,” he says. “However, with off-the-court earnings, the hierarchy can be entirely different. Famous women eclipse their male counterparts in virtually every arena when it comes to branding, endorsements and licensing income.”
An upcoming fashion spread in British Vogue’s October issue, where Raducanu modelled Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Louis Vuitton, is the best portfolio she could ask for.
In other words, the money is there for the taking — provided she stays the course. The mental health costs of professional sport have been revealed recently, when Osaka withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon. Biles withdrew from the finals of several events at the Tokyo Olympics before eventually winning bronze on the balance beam, and England footballer Tyrone Mings spoke up of how his mental health had been affected in the run-up to the Euro 2020 tournament.
Raducanu herself retired midway through the fourth round at Wimbledon after experiencing dizziness and breathing difficulties. “I think the whole experience caught up with me,” she said at the time.
She addressed the question of pressure after winning her first Grand Slam: “I don’t feel absolutely any pressure,” she told Time magazine. “I’m still only 18 years old. I’m just having a free swing at anything that comes my way. That’s how I faced every match here in the States. Yeah, it got me this trophy, so I don’t think I should change anything.”
Health concerns aside, Raducanu’s continued earning potential will vary with the quality of her game.
Anna Kournikova, for example, earned $4m on the court and has a net worth of $50m today despite famously never making the finals of a WTA tournament. By contrast, Sharapova, who is only seven years younger, has a net worth of $180m.
“Raducanu is a diamond in the rough. All she will need is polish and that will come with putting in the work, with keeping herself grounded and with looking after her mental and physical health,” Mr Oldham adds.
She has gone from a professional ranking of 365 in April to 22 at the end of September.
“The successful connection of a sportsperson is always a combination of both winning consistently and authenticity,” Mr Shalit says.
“Raducanu’s authenticity is already deep-set around the world and is growing by the day. Whether at the Met Gala, Vogue Fashion Week parties or playing tennis with a future Queen of England [Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge], Raducanu is already a national treasure in many countries across several continents.”
Elevating her off-court game could see Raducanu take inspiration from Williams by way of smart investments and entrepreneurial ventures.
Williams has backed 66 start-ups through her Serena Ventures firm. She owns an estimated 0.5 per cent stake in the Miami Dolphins American football team and invested in Bitski, the platform for non-fungible tokens, this May. She sits on the boards of social marketplace Poshmark and brand insights company Momentive (formerly SurveyMonkey). She also has a direct-to-consumer clothing line, S by Serena, and recently signed a documentary TV deal with Amazon Studios.
Raducanu has yet to make any significant off-court portfolio-boosting moves, but she can count on professional advice at home.
Asked what she would do with the US Open prize money, she said: “I will just leave that to my parents. They can take that for me. I haven’t gone shopping yet.”
She did, however, admit to a keen interest in finance and took the time to stop at the New York Stock Exchange, besides attending the Met Gala.
“It’s the one place on my bucket list I had to check out before leaving New York,” she told CNBC. “It’s something that I’ve been studying at school in my A-levels. To see it live is just incredible.”
At the start of the US Open, the tennis wunderkind joked that she wanted to be able to afford new AirPods and repeatedly referred to them as the motivation for winning.
With her earnings so far, she could just as easily have put down money for a new iPhone 13 Pro Max — as well as for a chunk of Apple stock.