Teams behind the scenes help sports stars sparkle

As the tennis Grand Slam starts in Melbourne tomorrow, most eyes will be on the leading players. But few fans can truly appreciate the hard graft that goes into giving them the stage on which to perform.

When the players walk out on court in Melbourne for the Australian Open tomorrow it will be obvious how hard they are working to win the match.

But the sweat businesses put in to create the stage for the showdown will be much less visible.

"There are lots of aspects involved. It's a lot deeper than people think," says Greg Sproule, the managing director and vice president of IMG, a media and representation giant heavily involved in sport.

Not only is there the marketing, creation of the logos, sponsorship and the selling and servicing of those packages to consider. There is the signage, the website, social media and hospitality to arrange.

And whom the responsibility for all that falls to depends on the tournament in question.

IMG, which is arguably better known for its management services of big stars such as the current world number one tennis player, Novak Djokovic, works with the organisers of a number of tennis tournaments in different areas. For instance, it helped to organise the recent Mubadala World Tennis Championship on behalf of Flash Entertainment, which owns the tournament. And it is involved in the organisation of many others, the Australian Open included.

"We do not run the Australian Open. That's done by Tennis Australia who do an incredible job, but we assist them in certain areas," says Mr Sproule.

"We assist them in areas like commercial rights, so in finding sponsors for the event and similarly in television distribution," he adds.

And television is an area where sport and business really converge.

"The Australian Open is one of the big four, so its revenue is probably three or four times the amount of a standard ATP event from the television side of things," says Jamie Cunningham, the chief executive of the Professional Sports Group.

Audience figures for Grand Slams such as the Australian Open are enormous, like the prize money on offer, which gives sponsors the chance to reach millions - and be associated with winners.

Aside from the prize money that comes with it, a grand slam win can end up being worth a lot more to a player. But just how much depends on a lot of factors, according to Mr Sproule.

"It depends on their marketability. It depends on to some degree, but not all degree, where they are from and how much they travel around the world. If they speak other languages," he says.

Take Roger Federer, for instance, who comes from Switzerland, a tiny European country. He has a string of sponsorship deals with companies including Nike, Credit Suisse and Rolex.

"He is the greatest tennis player who has ever played the game. He has translated that into impressive commercial success but he is a very special human being in terms of the person he is and the father he is," says Mr Sproule.

IMG, which used to count Federer among its clients, has a department that helps to match-make between players with potential sponsors.

The company helped to set up the partnership between promising Matteo Manassero, a young golfer on the European tour, and the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.

"Golf tourism is very important to [the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority] and will be important to Abu Dhabi moving forward because of the kind of tourist golf attracts," says Mr Sproule.

"To have a young man who properly represents Abu Dhabi internationally and can speak eloquently about this great golf destination is a big responsibility."

The value of sponsorship deals can often be significant to sports stars. But it seems like it might be money well spent for the sponsors.

A study by sports marketing research firm Repucom on behalf of Forbes found that Tiger Woods generated US$18.9 million (Dh69.4m) in media value for his sponsors, Nike and Fuse Science, during US golf performances last year.

And Red Bull is another company that has profited from its sports sponsorship, according to Mr Cunningham.

"Red Bull had a really good product and was up against Coca-Cola. They needed to differentiate themselves so they went and created stuff around it, sponsorship content, as well as sponsors around sport to make their brand and proposition work and go further," he says.

Investing in sports sponsorship can come with a range of benefits in areas such as sales and HR and generally just make companies look shinier, better and a bit more polished, says Mr Cunningham.

But as lucrative as they often are to the sportsmen and women, they can also come at a cost.

"More corporate relationships involves more time … more time to dedicate to those partners who have invested in you. That means time away from training and competing," says Mr Sproule.