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What: ATP star Rafael Nadal’s recent comments at the Australian Open may have an effect on his marketability moving forward.
Why it matters: The world’s No. 1-ranked player has been a spectacularly successful pitchman for numerous products across various categories, but will his remarks praising Margaret Court and bashing the ATP schedule cause sponsors to rethink their commitments to him?

(Wikimedia Commons/Mikelokok)

His recent exit from the Australian Open and failure to win the year’s first major won’t affect World No. 1 Rafael Nadal’s value whatsoever. The Spaniard’s actions and comments, however, very well could have an impact on his brand partners down the line.

In the span of a few matches, Nadal (@RafaelNadal) managed to potentially hurt his long-term value with two separate but equally unsavory moments. Following his third-round win over Damir Dzumhur, Nadal addressed fans in an on-court interview saying, “It’s very special for me to play in Margaret Court Arena for the first time in a long time.” But considering how Margaret Court —the former Australian tennis star for whom the arena is named after— has drawn widespread criticism for her staunchly anti-gay and anti-transgender views, Nadal’s comments could seem of poor taste to sponsors.

How could this affect some of the long-term partners Rafa has, especially as the tennis legend’s career wanes and brands around the world become warier of engaging with athletes who may stray from the mainstream?

Especially because days before the Australian Open commenced, tennis’ biggest ambassador Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing), who is a gay woman, remarked, “If I were playing today, I would not play on it,” referring to Margaret Court Arena. Days later, Nadal conceded defeat to Marin Cilic after falling behind 2-0 in the fifth set of their quarterfinal match. Opting not to gracefully accept defeat, despite the unfortunate and untimely injury to his right leg, Rafa attacked the ATP Tour, resuming his longtime claim that the intensity of the schedule causes injuries.

“Somebody who is running the tour should think a little bit about what’s going on. Too many people getting injured. I don’t know if they have to think a little bit about the health of the players. Not for now that we are playing, but there is life after tennis. I don’t know if we keep playing on these very, very hard surfaces what’s going to happen in the future with our lives,” he added.

Potential Effect on Partners?

How could this affect some of the long-term partners Rafa has, especially as the tennis legend’s career wanes and brands around the world become warier of engaging with athletes who may stray from the mainstream?

“The value that Rafa Nadal has brought to the sport of tennis, and to his brand partners, is almost immeasurable. He has changed the game and brought millions of new fans to the sport and its partners,” said Columbia University professor and longtime sports marketer now at MP & Silva, Chris Lencheski. “However, like all aspects of our business, public perception and current value play an even bigger role, and the use of athletes as brand ambassadors has never been more in question. Would we like to see elite athletes like Rafa go gracefully? Sure. Sometimes that doesn’t happen the way we would like. Will his recent comments and actions diminish his long-term value for his biggest partners? That remains to be seen.”

For now, Nadal still has the long-term support of one of all of his biggest sponsors, including Kia Motors, who tweeted their support, following his shaky Aussie stunt. Kia vowed that they will be along for Nadal’s journey “together as always.” The rest of his key brand partners include Nike, Babolat, Telefonica, Banco Sabadell, Richard Mille, and Tommy Hilfiger, none of which have expressed any concern about Rafa short-term, and obviously still see the investment for the long-term as his brand matures from player to spokesperson. Nadal has always been a safe bet, and like Roger Federer (@rogerfederer), he has shied away from controversy and has let his racquet do the talking. That is what has made him such a valuable global brand ambassador; a great look, a humble, hardworking approach, and amazing success.

Will that change if controversy keeps coming? Brands will run if the public tide shifts, but for now, they will watch and weigh the benefits of a great champion and ambassador vs what may have been a misstep or two.

Cover photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Carine06

A recap of news and trends in the Sports Marketing world as compiled by Portada’s Editorial team….

“Hot” Content Distribution and Monetization Play

Switzerland-based marketing firm Infront Sports & Media has acquired 51% in Omnigon, which specializes in developing digital content distribution platforms for teams, leagues and entertainment companies. Infront Sports & Media is owned by Chinese Conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, which is investing in companies that are at the intersection of sports and entertainment. Omnigon is a consulting firm that helps sports, media and entertainment providers to develop mobile apps and websites. Omnigon’s client list includes World Rugby, PGA Tour, NASCAR, AS Roma, Fox, Fox Sports, Miami Heat and WWE. The New York-based firm will continue to operate as a stand-alone entity, keeping its brand name.

Portada’s 2016 Hispanic Sports Marketing Guide will be published on March 1. To reserve your spot in this marquee lead-gen and branding tool please reach out to Sales and Marketing Director Kelley Eberhardt at kelley@portada-online.com.

ESPN: OTT or no OTT, That is the Question

Hispanic Online VideoA survey conducted by the marketing firm Civic Science and highlighted in a note by BTIG notes that more than half of cable subscribers would be happy to drop ESPN to save US $8 a month. Additionally, only 6% of the survey’s respondents said they would be willing to pay US $20 a month for a Netflix-like ESPN offering. ESPN currently charges providers more than US $6 a subscriber to carry the network. So if consumers had the choice, usually only given with direct-to-consumer online video options, they would not pay much for an ESPN offering. Reports have indicated ESPN would need to charge $30 for a similar bundle for it to make economic sense. Myles Udland writes in Business Insider that “Disney cannot take ESPN direct-to-consumer and they know it, whether they admit that publicly or not….The math for a direct-to-consumer offering for a basic cable network does not work, especially for channel(s) with very high monthly fees embedded within the current MVPD bundle. Per Disney’s, the owner of ESPN, November SEC filing, ESPN lost nearly 7 million subscribers over the last two years as the number of cord cutters continues to increase. At the end of the fourth quarter of fiscal 2015, ESPN had a subscriber base of 92 million in comparison to 95 million at the end of the prior-year quarter and regressing to the level it had a decade ago.

Oscar de la Hoya’s Channels Now on OTT

Two new boxing channels are coming to streaming TV service FilmOn TV Networks, thanks to a new partnership announced by Oscar De La Hoya, Chairman and CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, and FilmOn TV Networks CEO Alki David. Both channels will go live at the end of January and will be free as part of filmon.com’s ad-supported OTT service. 10-time world champion De La Hoya’s classic fights will air on the Golden Boy Channel, while Golden Boy Promotions’ monthly boxing series LA FIGHT CLUB will live stream its bi-weekly fights on The Ring, with the first kicking off at 5:30 PST on January 29th. “Past, present or future, Golden Boy Promotions has, is and always will be about pitting the best against the best,” said Oscar De La Hoya, Chairman and CEO of Golden Boy Promotions. “This new partnership with FilmOn will only further showcase our mission by offering fans the best fights from today and yesterday.”

ESPN Extends Australian Open Rights

For those of you watching the Australian Open, know that if you move to the Caribbean or AustraliaLatin America you will be able to continue watching it through ESPN for the foreseeable future. ESPN International reached a five-year extension of its agreement with Tennis Australia for exclusive distribution rights in Latin America and the Caribbean of the Australian Open, the tennis season’s first Grand Slam event, it was announced by Richard Heaselgrave, commercial director of Tennis Australia and Tim Bunnell, senior vice president of production, programming, marketing and advertising sales for ESPN International. The agreement extends ESPN’s current distribution agreement through 2021. Under terms of the extension, ESPN will continue to have exclusive pay television and digital distribution rights throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition, beginning in 2017, ESPN will have the distribution rights to several lead-up events to the Australian Open, including the Hopman Cup, World Tennis Challenge, Brisbane International and Apia International. Also, ESPN will have the rights to select coverage of the Australian Open qualifiers, “Legends,” Juniors and Wheelchair events.

Milwaukee Bucks go Hispanic

MilwaukeeThe Milwaukee Bucks announced a new initiative to expand the team’s presence in Milwaukee’s Hispanic community, highlighted by Spanish language radio broadcasts of five upcoming Bucks games. This year’s Spanish broadcasts are the cornerstone of a new partnership between the team and Bustos Media, which operates WDDW 104.7 FM “La Gran D” in Milwaukee. “We are very pleased to announce this partnership with the Milwaukee Bucks,” John Bustos, managing partner of WDDW 104.7 FM, said. “As this innovative new ownership group and management team return this proud franchise to prominence, they also are changing the landscape of Greater Milwaukee and will make a huge impact on the community. We look forward to working with them to bring that excitement to the fast-growing Hispanic community that we serve so well.”

Fox Attempts to Make Uefa League More Popular

Fox Sports kicked off its marketing campaign for the return of the Bundesliga, half a year after the network started airing matches from Germany’s top soccer league on its networks worldwide. That launch was hyped as groundbreaking, but the results have been mixed. Ratings in the U.S. for Bundesliga matches have been poor, averaging 55,000 per match for the first 17 games Fox aired in the 2015/2016 season, or around a tenth of what NBC draws for its English Premier League matches stateside. Only Leverkusen has averaged over 100,000 viewers per match in the U.S., largely due to Mexican star Javier Hernandez, aka Chicharito, who is a big draw for U.S. Hispanic fans. The biggest single draw in the U.S. was for a one-off, tape-delayed airing of the Sept. 13 match between Bayern Munich and Augsburg, which reached 926,000 viewers.