Chinese shoe brand signs Jankovic
Deal may signal continental shift in tennis endorsement market
By DANIEL KAPLAN
Reebok didn’t offer to extend Jankovic (left);
Blake’s Fila deal will pay him based on the
sales of his new line; neither of the Williams
sisters has a sneaker deal in place.
Published January 19, 2009 : Page 01
The world’s top-ranked women’s tennis player, Jelena Jankovic, has reached an endorsement deal with sneaker and apparel company Anta, sources said, becoming the highest-profile global athlete to back one of China ’s emerging athletic companies.
Reebok last week formally declined to re-sign Jankovic, and she quickly accepted a three-year offer guaranteed at $5.1 million from Anta, the sources said.
The deal positions Anta alongside companies like Li-Ning and Peak that are now competing in China with traditional powers Nike and Adidas and perhaps soon could do so globally, as well.
“This is a first. It is really groundbreaking,” said Terry Rhoads, co-founder of Zou Marketing, a China-based sports marketing firm. “This is a proud moment for all Chinese sportswear companies.”
Jankovic is represented by IMG tennis agent Gavin Forbes, who declined to comment.
The deal highlights a changing marketplace for tennis players’ core sneaker endorsement deals just as this year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, gets under way.
James Blake last week left Nike for an unconventional pact with Fila, which has not had a top American male endorser since 1977. Neither of the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, is under contract despite residing in the top 10 and holding the last two Grand Slam titles.
One of the reasons for the changes is the decline of tennis in America . The current economy is also a factor. Reebok, for example, declined to re-sign Jankovic the day before announcing 310 layoffs.
“After two successful years in partnership, Reebok has decided not to extend our relationship with JelenaJankovic,” the company said in a statement. “Jelena has always been a loyal ambassador for the brand and has continuously proven herself as a player of stature and maturity. We wish her all the very best in her future endeavors.”
Nike declined to re-sign Blake after having worked with him since he turned pro in 1998. He signed a four-year deal with Fila that pays him in the mid-six figures guaranteed, with potentially more based on the performance of a developing line of products.
That arrangement is unique. Most tennis contracts reward players for on-court performance. Fila will pay Blake based on the success of the products.
That product line is under development, but it will involve both the Fila logo and a yet-to-be-developed mark for Blake. His agent, Carlos Fleming of IMG, said the line will incorporate intellectual property from the player and the sneaker company, and will include tennis, lifestyle and fitness offerings.
Meanwhile, Serena Williams, whose contract with Nike expired last month, is still talking with the company. Nike has plowed substantial resources in tennis into Maria Sharapova, so where Williams fits into the mix is unclear.
Similarly, Venus Williams’ line, EleVen, now has no home with the demise of her retail partner, Steve & Barry’s. Fleming, who is also her agent, said he is in negotiations with potential partners.
Whether Jankovic’s agreement with Anta will bring forth a wave of new deals from China in tennis is unclear. Anta is largely a China-only company, though it does advertise courtside at Houston Rockets games. Rockets owner Les Alexander was an early investor in the company.
Li-Ning, which had a visible presence during the Beijing Olympics, was interested last year in signing Ana Ivanovic, currently the world’s No. 5 player, before she re-signed with Adidas.
To date, the significant non-Chinese endorsements for Chinese footwear companies have been in basketball. Peak counts Shane Battier and Jason Kidd as endorsers. Shaquille O’Neal has a China-only endorsement deal with Li-Ning.
The companies use the signings to gain credibility domestically, Rhoads said. He views the Anta/Jankovic signing in this light, with tennis, unlike in the United States, a growing sport in China.