Teenage tennis phenomenon Emma Raducanu’s astonishing US Open triumph could lead to a pot of gold worth around £20 million (US$27.7 million) over the next two years – and that may be just the start – according to sports marketing experts.
The 18-year-old Briton was almost unheard of before reaching the fourth round at this year’s Wimbledon championship in London, having earned around US$40,000 since her senior debut three years earlier.
After becoming Britain’s first female grand slam champion for 44 years and the new golden girl of women’s tennis, Raducanu’s earning potential is set to enter the stratosphere.
The US$2.5 million she picked up in prize money for beating fellow teenager Leylah Fernandez of Canada in a final that captivated the sporting world may soon seem like loose change.
Raducanu, wearing Tiffany jewellery, with her winner’s trophy. She was almost unheard of before reaching the fourth round at this year’s Wimbledon. Photo: Xinhua
Raducanu’s mixed Romanian-Chinese heritage, a stunning game and engaging personality make her “brand gold”, according to one sports marketing expert.
She starred in a photo shoot for British Vogue’s October edition, and major global brands in everything from fashion to cars and jewellery will be queuing at the doors of IMG, her management company.
At the US Open, Raducanu wore a bracelet, a ring and a pendant from Tiffany & Co on the court and at the awards ceremony.
Two days after her victory, she graced the red carpet at the Met Gala in New York clad in a printed silk twill top and skirt with matching coat from French luxury label Chanel.
“There is no limit in what she can achieve on the court,” Tim Lopez, the director at sports marketing firm CSM, said on September 13. “She’s hugely in demand already, but to follow that up with continued success in the majors in tennis will see her rapidly become one of the most marketable athletes on the planet.”
Raducanu at the New York Stock Exchange on September 14, 2021. Photo: AP
With its global reach and equal exposure, tennis offers a road to riches for top female players; Japan’s Naomi Osaka earned US$55 million, not including prize money, in the past year, according to Forbes magazine.
Of the world’s 10 highest-paid sportswomen, nine are tennis players.
Lopez says Raducanu, whose mother Renee is from Shenyang in northeast China, shares the same marketing appeal as four-time grand slam champion Osaka, whose mother is Japanese and father Haitian.
(From left) Lily-Rose Depp, Whitney Peak, Margaret Qualley, Kristen Stewart and Raducanu at the 2021 Met Gala. Photo: Getty Images
“If you use that as a yardstick not just because of their career trajectory but also their shared appeal and that they are both engaging and from mixed heritage backgrounds, that’s a huge benefit from a brand perspective,” he said.
“From an eyeballs point of view there is no bigger market to tap into.”
Raducanu’s rise from obscurity to having her face plastered on billboards will have sports clothing brands vying for her signature. After Osaka won back-to-back grand slam titles in 2018 and 2019, Nike reportedly paid US$10 million to take her from rivals Adidas.
Raducanu wore a printed silk twill top and skirt and matching coat from French luxury label Chanel to the Met Gala. Photo: AP
Raducanu’s appeal goes beyond the court, according to Conrad Wiacek, head of sport analysis at GlobalData.
“Her victory takes her way beyond tennis and sport in terms of marketability,” he said.
“One of the most impressive things for me was her message in Mandarin for the Chinese audience because the major issue Western sports stars have in breaking China is the language barrier. The sky is the limit, as any Western brand positioning itself in China would be looking at her as an ambassador.”
Raducanu, wearing Tiffany jewellery, with her winner’s trophy after defeating fellow teenager Leylah Fernandez in the 2021 US Open women’s final. Photo: AFP
Wiacek expects Raducanu’s Nike sponsorship deal to be raised significantly, and that other endorsements will earn her about US$10 million over the next two years.
“With her Chinese and eastern Europe heritage as well as Britain, that puts her in a different stratosphere to other athletes,” he said. “I’ve seen it being thrown around that she’s a potential billion-dollar athlete. That’s a long way away.
“That’s based on consistency but, just in the next 12 months, I would say US$5 million would be a realistic number. Ultimately, the barometer for how commercially successful she will be will depend on how successful she is on the tennis court.”
Raducanu, wearing Tiffany jewellery, during the awards ceremony in New York. She posted a message in Chinese thanking Chinese fans afterwards. Photo: Xinhua
Raducanu is represented by super-agent Max Eisenbud, who helped turn Russian Maria Sharapova into the highest-earning female athlete after she won Wimbledon aged 17, with off-court career earnings of around US$320 million.
However, the pitfalls in professional tennis are numerous, with Osaka, another IMG athlete, struggling to cope with the sudden fame and fortune success brings.
Lopez says striking the right balance between on-court and off-court activities will be a key factor in Raducanu achieving her full potential.
“People need to give the girl a chance to consolidate what she’s done and not to heap too much pressure on too soon,” he said. “Focus on the mental well-being, then the sporting well-being and the financial rewards will certainly follow.”Internet Explorer Channel Network