What: Rafael Nadal, 17 years and 80 career singles titles after his 2001 debut, transcends both the Spanish and English speaking world.
Why it matters: Nadal has found unparalleled success in the marketing arena as well, with a wide variety of sponsors, comfortably across languages and countries.

Nadal (Wikimedia commons si.robi)

The US Open (@usopen) has been a global event that draws close to 800,000 fans each year and becomes a global brand that is much more than just a tennis tournament in New York that rings Labor Day weekend every late summer.

Into that global mix, especially since the last American male to win the event was Andy Roddick (@theARFoundationin 2003, is a kaleidoscope of international athletes all with their own appeal not just in New York but across America, and perhaps no bigger draw for brands is Spain’s Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal).  More than Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, or even rising Americans like John Isner? Yes, Nadal. More than Argentinian and former US Open Champion Juan Martin del Potro? For sure. But why is Nadal’s sponsorship value, which according to Forbes, is in excess of US $27 million, so high, and how does it transcend both the Spanish speaking and Anglo world of tennis in America?

The easiest answer is style and grit. “For a game that is very much built on decorum and tradition, Rafa is fearless, and fans of any language and background love that,” said Randy Walker (@TennisPublisher ), a longtime tennis insider and publisher of many books on the sport, as well as the website World Tennis. “His attributes, overcoming injury, surmounting huge leads, and showing his emotions need no language and they are what anyone who loves spirit can appreciate.”

…[T]hat translates well to all kinds of brands looking for a crossover cultural and athletic connection.

Nadal’s portfolio is led by Nike (@Nike), who has had him on their handpicked tennis roster since 2008 and has built global campaigns around his stylish appearance for several years. Kia Motors (@Kia_Motors), another global disruptive brand, has worked with him since 2004 and has extended his partnership to 2020. Tommy Hilfiger (@TommyHilfiger) made Nadal a global ambassador in 2014 and he has been one of their centerpiece personalities since then.

There are regional brands like Telefónica (@Telefonicawho use Nadal as a global ambassador in key regions like Europe, Asia, and Central, and South America, Banco Sabadell, watchmaker Richard Mille and Babolat, who has had a longstanding relationship with him around the world as well.

Latinos, especially affluent, upwardly mobile and digital-first millennials, continue to crave culture and tradition while embracing that’s where Nadal fits the equation so well. He is Spanish language and manner first, but he fits well into a generation that loves style and flamboyance, which translates across the Atlantic and across cultures. Oh yes, and he wins, as he has done on the blue courts of the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center three times, including last September. However, even without the wins, Nadal’s brand and style fit better with the casual consumer than almost any other tennis player today, this side of Serena Williams or the now aging Federer. It comes down to culture.

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Gustavo Kuerten (Wikimedia/I, Steff)

“You see the cultural connections, especially for Latino players, every time they come to the Open,” Walker added.  “I remember when Andrés Gómez played and did so well at the Open, all the Ecuadorians rich and not so rich would come out and support him with everything from flags to pots and pans,” Walker added.  “The same happened with Gustavo Kuerten and the Brazilian fans and even this year in qualifying when veteran Dominican player Victor Estrella Burgos almost made the main draw. Their support transcends cultures and is infectious for the sport, and that translates well to all kinds of brands looking for a crossover cultural and athletic connection.”

While the USTA searches far and wide for its next male champion and invests millions into grassroots programs at getting Latinos involved and active in tennis across the country, their ability to capture, which has not yet really happened, a Spanish speaking ambassador to further expand the reach of the Open is right in their midst. Rafael Nadal is edgy, gritty, flamboyant, telegenic and athletic, traits which speak volumes to brands, and he has gotten to make that connection to millions around the world.

His brand and his partners are perhaps the best next step to cross a cultural divide for the game of love, and there is no better place to keep that relationship going than Flushing Meadows. Regardless of the outcome in the rest of the fortnight, Nadal the ambassador has done his job, on and off the court.


Joe Favorito has over 32 years of strategic communications/marketing, business development and public relations expertise in sports, entertainment, brand building, media training, television, athletic administration and business. The Brooklyn, New York native has managed the day-to- day activities in strategic communications for: Two of the world’s hallmark sports and entertainment brands (the New York Knickerbockers and Philadelphia 76ers), the world’s largest professional sport for women (the WTA Tour), the world’s largest sports National Governing Body (the United States Tennis Association) and the world’s largest annual sporting event (the US Open). He also oversaw the strategic planning, investor relations, communications and digital business development of the International Fight League during its two year run as a Mixed Martial Arts venture and a publicly traded company. Favorito serves on the boards of the Weinstein Carnegie Group, New York Sports Venture Capital, the National Sports Marketing Network, the Drexel University Sports Business program, and Columbia University’s Sports Management program (where he is an instructor in Strategic Communications and Director of Industry Relations). Joe also maintains a well trafficked blog on the sports marketing and publicity field, “Sports Marketing and PR Roundup,” on the website joefavorito.com, as well authoring the first- ever text on the sports publicity industry (“Sports Publicity” published in August 2007 by Reed Elsevier and updated in 2012 by Taylor Publishing with a third printing coming in 2018), which is used in over 60 sports management programs in the U.S. He has been a guest speaker on sports marketing, social media and communications at a host of institutions, including Princeton University, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, the University of Florida Law School, New York University, the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and many others. He is also a frequent spokesperson on the industry for publications ranging from Ad Age and The New York Times to NPR and CBS News. A graduate of Fordham University, Joe, his wife and two children reside in River Vale, New Jersey.

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