Beautiful Losers?

by: Bill Gray | February 22, 2010

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Tags: The Pro Shop

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If you’re over 30, you probably remember the shampoo commercial with the tag line, “Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.” That slogan started repeating itself in my head after the news the news that Adidas had bestowed a lifelong endorsement extension contract with Ana Ivanovic, the day after yet another bad weekend at the office. She had just gone 0-3 in Fed Cup play as Serbia lost to Russia, 3-2, her latest misfire in a year-long slump. An email response from Adidas explained the extension was based on her “persona, the combination of her on and off-court appearance. It shows that she can relate to consumers in the tennis, fitness and lifestyle arenas.”

Marion_Bartoli Off-court “persona” is a corporate euphemism for “sex appeal,” and the ability to “relate to consumers” means they want to buy the dresses she wears.

A few weeks prior, around the time Maria Sharapova was being bounced in the first round of the Australian Open, Nike ponied up an eight-year $70 million contract extension to make her the highest-paid female athlete endorser ever. She also made the 80th spot on BusinessWeek’s “Power 100” list of athletes. The magazine explained that she may be two years from her last Grand Slam title, “but her physical beauty has landed her more corporate sponsors than any other athlete.” Meanwhile, Forbes followed suit, labeling Maria the seventh most valuable “brand athlete” in sports. Roger Federer was the only other tennis player on the list at No. 3.

Tennis isn’t alone in the beauty-first contemporary world of marketing and advertising. Misty May-Treanor, a 2004 and 2008 Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist, made BusinessWeek’s list, too. Her uniform – a bikini – “has proved top be a good recipe for catching the attention of sports fans and advertising executives alike,” the magazine said. Danica Patrick is the only female driver to ever win an Indy car-racing event – in 2008 in Japan – but she has become better known as the “Go Daddy girl” in the racy ads for the domain brand.   

All this focus on skin-deep marketing is probably what caused Marion Bartoli, ranked ahead of Ivanovic and Sharapova on the WTA Tour, to wonder out loud recently if the 5-foot-6 and 139-pound Frenchwoman (pictured) was sponsorless because she wasn’t “blonde enough, not thin enough, not tall enough.”

But one thing Bartoli didn’t mention is she’s also never won a Grand Slam. “The fact that Ivanovic and Sharapova have won Slams gives them a measure of performance credibility that puts them above and beyond Bartoli and even Anna Kournikova,” says sports marketing analyst Bob Dorfman, author of The Sports Marketers’ Guide. “If female athletes are good looking enough, they don’t have to be consistent winners – if they’ve succeeded in the big events once upon a time, there’s more forgiveness by advertisers on the performance side.”

And there’s no question Ivanovic and Sharapova sell the products they endorse -- not just dresses and watches, but even the racquets they use – albeit with limited success lately.

Sharapova has played with three different Prince racquets in the past five years, most recently switching to the EX03 Black 100 at the Australian Open. The first two models – the 03 White and the 03 Speedport Black — were two of the industry’s best selling frames, according to the company. Further, the company says she has a “halo effect” on Prince products she doesn’t endorse, such as string, grip, footwear and apparel. “Her influence is undeniable,” a spokesman says. “She is a player that not only influences [buyers], but transcends the sport.”

It’s the same at Yonex, Ivanovic’s racquet brand. Her RQiS 1 Tour XL model is one of the company’s two best sellers and consumers don’t ask for it by its model name, they call it “Ana’s racquet.”

So don’t hate them because they’re beautiful. They’re doing the job for their sponsors, which makes them worth every nickel. 

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