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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.

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

What: Follow the weekend’s ratings through the live sports top 25 ranking! Here is a quick look at what people watched over the past weekend.

Which sport drew the biggest audience?

With close to 4 million viewers, NASCAR Cup Racing, which took place in Martinsville,VA, and was broadcast through Fox Sports 1, was the most watched sports event during the weekend.

What broadcaster drew the biggest audience?

Out of the almost 16 million people on our top 25 who watched sports events last weekend, 7.5 million tuned into ESPN. This broadcaster was the most watched during the weekend although Fox Sports 1 did broadcast the most watched event.

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What else is relevant?

The Tennis ATP Masters 1000’s final, held in Miami between Rodger Federer and Rafel Nadal positioned on number 7 of our ranking. The match had almost 500,000 viewers, due to the known rivalry between both tennis players.

ProgramEpisodeNetworkStartEndTotal Viewers (000)Viewers Age 18-49 (000)Day of the game
1NASCAR M.E. CUP RACING LMARTINSVILLEFOX SPORTS 12:00 p.m.6:14 p.m.3.963984Sun
2WMNS NCAA BKBL CHAMP LMISSISSIPPI STATE/SOUTH CAROLINAESPN6:11 p.m.8:17 p.m.3.8271.046Sun
3MLB OPENING DAY LNEW YORK YANKEES/TAMPA BAYESPN1:00 p.m.4:34 p.m.1.302579Sun
4MLB OPENING DAY LSAN FRANCISCO/ARIZONAESPN24:00 p.m.7:35 p.m.1.019469Sun
5PREMIER LEAGUE LMANCHESTER CITY/ARSENALNBC SPORTS NETWORK10:57 a.m.1:00 p.m.631311Sun
6NASCAR M.E. CUP FIN PRA LMARTINSVILLEFOX SPORTS 11:30 p.m.2:30 p.m.558124Sat
7TENNIS: ATP TOUR MASTER LMIAMI OPENESPN21:00 p.m.3:30 p.m.495139Sun
8PREMIER LEAGUE LCRYSTAL PALACE/CHELSEANBC SPORTS NETWORK9:57 a.m.12:02 p.m.448230Sat
9LALIGA SANTANDER MRQ-LGRANADA VS. BARCELONABEIN SPORT ESPANOL2:35 p.m.4:47 p.m.393206Sun
10NHL REGULAR SEASON LPHILLY/NY RANGERSNBC SPORTS NETWORK7:32 p.m.10:11 p.m.362145Sun
11NBA REGULAR SEASON LHOUSTON/PHOENIXNBA-TV9:10 p.m.11:26 p.m.305130Sun
12PREMIER LEAGUE LSAN FRANCISCO/ARIZONANBC SPORTS NETWORK7:22 a.m.9:28 a.m.287137Sat
13MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER LPORTLAND/ NEW ENGLANDESPN29:00 p.m.11:06 p.m.266125Sun
14PREMIER LEAGUE LMIDDLESBROUGH/SWANSEANBC SPORTS NETWORK8:24 a.m.10:31 a.m.256100Sun
15COLL SOFTBALL REG SSN LAUBURN/GEORGIAESPN7:00 p.m.9:53 p.m.250112Sat
16LALIGA SANTANDER MRQ-LREAL MADRID VS. ALAVESBEIN SPORT ESPANOL10:05 a.m.12:15 p.m.246145Sun
17NBA REGULAR SEASON LDENVER/MIAMINBA-TV6:00 p.m.9:10 p.m.23395Sun
18LIGA MX LJAGUARES / UNAMUNIVISION DEPORTES6:37 p.m.8:57 p.m.226123Sat
19COLLEGE BASEBALL LTEXAS A&M/LSUESPN23:30 p.m.6:13 p.m.17139Sat
20PREMIER LEAGUE LWEST BROM/MANCEHSTER UNITEDCNBC10:00 a.m.12:04 p.m.151113Sat
21LALIGA SANTANDER MRQ-LGRANADA VS. BARCELONABEIN SPORT2:35 p.m.4:50 p.m.11878Sun
22HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL LHAMILTON HEIGHTS (TN)/MIAMI COUNTRY DAYESPN210:00 a.m.11:30 a.m.9741Sat
23COLL SOFTBALL REG SSN LKENTUCKY/OLE MISSESPNU4:11 p.m.6:13 p.m.9330Sat
24COLLEGE LACROSSE LSYRACUSE/NOTRE DAMEESPNU12:00 p.m.2:11 p.m.9045Sat
25LALIGA SANTANDER-LVALENCIA VS. DEPORTIVOBEIN SPORT ESPANOL12:20 p.m.2:30 p.m.8954Sun

 

Source: SportsTVRatings.com (“All data ©Nielsen, provided by a variety of TV network sources and not directly from Nielsen”)