Tennis: Game, set, cash – Djokovic’s Australian saga gives sponsors a headache

MELBOURNE (AFP) – Novak Djokovic’s murderous Australian saga has not only stalled his efforts for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam, but could also force his multimillion-dollar backers to rethink their relationship with one of the world’s greatest champions. tennis, even if it is imperfect.

The 34-year-old world no.

Off the court, the numbers are just as staggering.

In 2021 alone, his endorsement deals grossed some $30 million, according to figures from Forbes magazine.

Its place on the rich list was secured by deals struck by various companies, including Japanese sports equipment maker Asics and French automaker Peugeot.

Djokovic’s Lacoste contract was his most lucrative, valued at around $9 million by several US outlets.

However, this income still lags behind its contemporaries.

Roger Federer and Serena Williams, who both turned 40 in 2021, took in $90 million and $40 million, respectively. Japanese Naomi Osaka attracted $55 million.

Some pundits believe Djokovic’s fiery temper and notorious missteps – he was disqualified from the 2020 US Open for accidentally shooting an official in the throat – count against him.

“There’s this feeling that maybe he’s not as likable as Federer or Rafael Nadal,” said Patrick Rishe, professor of sports economics at Washington University in the US city of St. Louis. .

Although he is involved in several charities and respected by most of his peers, Djokovic’s professional determination and his position on the vaccination against Covid-19 have caused splits.

“Dull Image”

His admission of not having isolated himself despite testing positive for Covid-19 in December saw his character further questioned.

“So any company that was perhaps on the verge of working with him, this particular incident will only fuel the flames for not choosing to work with him, at least in the short term,” Rishe said.

“His image is going to be tarnished because of this situation, because most of the players who play in this tournament (Australian Open) are vaccinated and have respected the rules”, insisted Josh Schwartz, in charge of athlete marketing at the American agency Pivot.

“It’s unfortunate,” Rishe said, “because he’s on the verge of setting the Grand Slam winning record. Normally when someone reaches that status, you’d think there would be endorsement opportunities, but I don’t see any coming in the near term.”

Schwartz, however, doesn’t see existing partners breaking contracts in the middle of a crisis or even immediately after.

“Novak Djokovic is his own man. We cannot comment on his decisions,” a spokesman for Swiss watchmaker Hublot, which signed the player only last year, told AFP.

“Hublot will continue its partnership with the world No. 1 in tennis.”

Austrian bank Raiffeisen was more nuanced, recalling that its partnership dates back “long before the report on Novak Djokovic’s vaccination status or his participation in the Australian Open”.

“As a sponsor, we are closely monitoring the current situation,” he said.

However, there is a risk that a rift could occur given the emotion and heat generated by the pandemic.

“It’s a complicated situation,” admits Schwartz. “Legally, there was no misdemeanor.”

Companies and leagues are still treading nervously through the commercial minefield associated with the health crisis.

In early November, after making ambiguous comments about vaccination, National Football League quarterback Aaron Rodgers was let go only by minor sponsor Prevea Health.

National Basketball Association star Kyrie Irving hasn’t suffered financially despite denouncing the requirement for athletes to get vaccinated in New York State.

“Short Memories”

“As consumers, we have very short memories,” argues Joe Favorito, a sports marketing specialist who teaches at Columbia University in the United States.

“We love heroes and villains and we love seeing people overcome hardships. If Novak Djokovic comes back anywhere will be the best because he didn’t break any laws.

“That’s just his personal opinion. It doesn’t diminish what he’s done on the courts.”

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