Wimbledon-mania is in full swing with polite queues snaking around SW19 to catch a slice of the action. With enthusiasm for the Championships at its height, the Women’s Tennis Association is actively seeking to engage fans to boost the business prospects of women’s tennis worldwide.
The association has introduced above-the-line marketing to its strategy, as part of an ongoing rebranding of the women’s game. Its aim is to maximise the appeal of the sport to fans and potential sponsors.
WTA chairman and chief executive Larry Scott says the brand has been repositioned “not just as the female version of tennis but as the leading global sport for women. And, the ultimate crossroads between sport and glamour.”
Despite grumbles from some quarters that the women’s tour has a fault or two on-court, the WTA is keen to tell the story of life off-court to connect with a younger audience.
It has launched a “fan friendly” website in time for Wimbledon, which aims to give fans closer access to female tennis stars. Sections of the website have been created in an attempt to attract the more casual fan with news and videos communicating players’ off court interests and personalities.
The website is also debuting the digital elements of the tour’s core marketing campaign “Looking for a Hero?”, which has been used to promote the Sony Ericsson WTA tour globally through a series of television and print advertising campaigns.
Scott admits this type of marketing campaign is an unusual approach for a governing body to take. He says that $15m (£9.2m) of funds have been committed over three years, promoting the campaign both on and offline to “aggressively tell our story”.
On a practical level, the tour calendar has been improved to ensure the best players compete against each other on the biggest stages. But the WTA has also engaged with the players, ensuring that they understand the benefits of sponsors.
Scott says: “We started organising media and marketing activities more in line with their image, around activities that would have high impact and were tied to a strategy they understood.”
The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour pre-Wimbledon player party at Kensington Roof Gardens is one of the ways the sport is promoted in an entertainment setting. It’s also a way for sponsors to get involved in the more glamorous side of the sport.
Title sponsor Sony Ericsson is keen to capitalise on the lifestyle aspect of women’s tennis to promote its $88m (£54.1m) global deal.
Sony Ericsson head of global communications and PR Aldo Liguori says being sponsorship of the WTA tour has enabled the brand to attract new customers. “One of the main reasons we became the title sponsor was to increase brand awareness and to really start to communicate with a wider audience,” he says.
The mobile manufacturer says it is seeking to promote the lifestyle connection between the sponsorship and the mobile phone brand.
Sony Ericsson’s sponsorship has now entered a new phase and will not just focus on using the deal to promote brand awareness, but also to drive sales. “We have refocused our objectives and are looking at how we can link brand awareness, through to purchase consideration and finally to purchase,” says Liguori.
WTA’s Scott, who is stepping down from his position next week, claims this partnership has pushed the governing body to be more innovative in its marketing and helped it to push the lifestyle aspect of the women’s tennis brand.
Gareth Moore international sales director at consultancy Sport+Markt says there’s no harm in attractive players being used to promote the sport but argues performance has to be there initially.
“Attractive players or the glamour factor cannot create new fans by itself. It is a first step to approaching new target groups and attracting attention. In order to turn them into new fans, you need athletic performance,” he says.
Clifford Bloxham head of talent management at sports marketing agency Octagon adds that it is positive that the WTA now has a clear strategy, but thinks glamour and lifestyle shouldn’t be the sole focus of the women’s game.
He warns that women tennis players will have to perform on court if they want to attract the top sponsors. “People talk about the fashion of the sport but I think it would be wrong to say that’s what it’s all about.”
Bloxham represents Laura Robson, the 15-year-old British Wimbledon junior champion. Although she was knocked out of the first round of the adult championships earlier this week, some analysts predict that she has the potential to earn as much as £50m – more than double that of former British number one, Tim Henman.
Robson already has deals with Adidas, sports equipment company Wilson and, since winning the Wimbledon juniors last year, Britvic’s Robinsons.
Bloxham is reluctant to put a figure on Robson’s potential earnings, but says if she is successful on court she will be “exceptionally successful off-court”.
“There are fewer female stars so there’s not the same competition as in the men’s game. If you take Andy Murray, he’s competing with the likes of Formula One’s Jenson Button and the big-name footballers,” he adds.
The balancing act of athleticism and glamour will be a tricky one, especially as top stars such as the Williams sisters have been accused of putting their off-court interests before their tennis.
However, the use of traditional marketing methods has appeared to have expanded women’s tennis globally in recent years, and brands such as Sony Ericsson feel confident in putting women’s tennis at the heart of their marketing strategy.
The six-year $88m (£54m) title sponsorship agreement between the WTA and Sony Ericsson is the largest financial deal in the history of women’s sports.
Sony Ericsson’s Looking for a Hero campaign is airing in over 75 countries and includes 40 different players.
Under its chairman Larry Scott, the WTA’s sponsorship revenue has increased by 500%.
2009 will see equal prize money at ten major tournaments, including the four Grand Slams.
The WTA RoadMap will launch during the 2009 season which will include more Grand Slam-like events. The reforms will also offer players a 40% increase in prize money.
Wimbledon has a sponsorship income from 14 partners, including the world’s oldest deal with Slazenger dating back to 1902.*
Wimbledon organisers expect to sell 17,000 bottles of champagne and 31 tonnes of strawberries during the tournament.*
*information provided by Sport+Markt