Different kind of Article about P3tra
Petra Kvitova, Tennis' $3 Million Woman, Focuses On Results Not Revenue
In the summer of 2011, Petra Kvitova became the first player of her generation to break through and win a major championship at Wimbledon. Later that year she triumphed at the season-ending WTA Championships. She was just two matches away from reaching World No. 1 at the beginning of 2012. Her powerful lefty serve and bruising groundstrokes had many hailing her as tennis’ next big thing. For all of the praise, and that sparkling stretch in 2011 and 2012, Petra Kvitova is not among tennis’ top-earning players.
FORBES pegs Kvitova’s earnings from June 2012 to June 2013 (the period we track athletes’ pay) at $3.25 million. She trails her rival Victoria Azarenka by about $12.5 million dollars, despite leading their head-to-head 4-2. In Azarenka’s defense she’s the best hard-court player not named Serena Williams, as well as the only person who can justifiably call herself a worthy challenger to Williams’ peerless run of play over the last 15 months. But dig a little deeper into the list of tennis’ top-paid, and the earnings discrepancies become less defensible.
Caroline Wozniacki outearned Kvitova by more than $10 million but has only reached one Slam final, and that was over four years ago. Kei Nishikori,tennis’ little-known $10 million man, actually earned less than Kvitova on court during the same time period. He’s never reached a Slam semifinal, to say nothing of finals, but outearns Kvitova by about $7 million.
For Nishikori, he can thank the country he hails from. In his sports-starved country, which still boasts a population of 126 million and the world’s third largest economy, he’s achieved superstar status as the country’s best man to ever pick up the sport. Kvitova, who calls Fulnek, Czech Republic, her home, doesn’t get that native daughter bottom-line boost, even though her business manager, Miroslav Cernosek, focuses much of Kvitova’s sponsorship efforts there. Soccer and ice hockey command much more attention than tennis in the Czech Republic, and the Czech economy has stagnated of late within the languishing Eurozone. Marketing dollars, unsurprisingly, don’t come as freely there as they do in the U.S., China and Japan.
Another thing hurting female players who haven’t achieved superstar status is that women’s tennis competes with men’s tennis for marketing dollars. “The big money often goes to the men,” Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sports Business Strategy and Marketing at Coventry University, told FORBES. And as my colleague, Kurt Badenhausen,pointed out in his story on tennis’ highest earners, once you move down past the top players, marketing dollars shrivel up for the rest.
For the Kvitovas of the world to land big sponsorships, brands need to be convinced that they’re recognizable and consistent. Media coverage is essential for that. But Cheryl Cooky, Associate Professor at Purdue University’s Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, noted how scant airtime is for female athletes. “The media shapes the interest. Even though there’s more women in sports today, there’s less coverage. Women’s sports get regulated to the ticker at the bottom of the screen.”
Coooky coauthored the longitudinal study on televised women’s sports, “Women Play Sport, But Not on TV,” and noted that with the squeeze on airtime and marketing dollars, “There’s a pressure placed upon female athletes unique to them as women to portray a particular image, a very heterosexual, prototypically feminine image that appeals to marketers. The conventional wisdom is that sex sells.”
Chadwick was blunt in the market’s appraisal of Kvitova. “She’s not physically appealing to many in the same way as Sharapova and Kournikova. At the same time she doesn’t have the sustained success like Sharapova and Serena.” Cooky, however, believes that the governing idea that sex sells in the marketplace is nothing more than a canard. “Research at the Tucker Center shows that sex doesn’t actually sell women’s sports. I get frustrated when marketers say that the onus is on fans, laissez-faire, I’m just meeting market demand. That’s why I think the Tucker Center research is so important. People, regardless of gender, age and sports interest, want to see women playing sports, and they want the focus to be on the players and the field.”
Kvitova likely won’t indulge advertisers’ more suggestive tastes, mainly because she has little interest gadabouting at Hollywood events and in the pages of lad mags. Martina Navratilova, the Czech American legend who won a combined 59 major championships in singles and doubles (incidentally, she’s Kvitova’s role model), told FORBES, “The obvious thing Petra can do is doll herself up: high heels, makeup, premieres. But that’s not who she is.”
What Kvitova can change is her penchant for erratic play. Consistency, thy name is not Petra Kvitova. In 2013 to date, she has played 36 three-set matches, more than any other woman on tour. The phenomenon has led the tennis Twitterati to rebrand the Czech lefty P3tra. While Kvitova has won 24 of these tussles, it’s alarming that a player with such a thunderous game goes walkabout so consistently mid-match.
But Kvitova’s style of play is inherently high-risk, high-reward. The P3tra era may be a long-lasting one, if for no other reason than she hits the ball with so little margin so often. Navratilova also mentioned another factor that may explain Kvitova’s unpredictability, her asthma. Kvitova “doesn’t make excuses. I’m sure she doesn’t talk about [how the asthma affects her]. We don’t know how much of her inconsistency is her breathing [issues].”
Tennis is a cruel sport, one that rewards merciless perfection and punishes human frailty. It’s hardly surprising then that tennis advertisers reward perfection in kind. “If you’re a brand that projects perfection, if you associate with someone with asthma, that message is disjointed. This sounds incredibly harsh, and it teeters on immorality, but that’s the way things are, but if you’re a brand, you may not want to be associated with someone with asthma,” Chadwick said.
When I relayed this to Navratilova, she said, “If that’s the case, that’s really shameful. I take the view that despite the fact that she has asthma, she’s won Wimbedon, in a sport that needs a great amount of lung capacity
. I wonder if some of it has to do with women having the label of being weaker than men.” That was a theme Cooky touched upon as well. “We don’t place the same expectations on male athletes. No one is suggesting that Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning because he’s sexy, and he’s very successful as an athlete and as a pitchman. He’s not up there because he has to be sexy and posing seductively in Cosmo.
“Petra’s options right now [to land sponsorships] aren’t great. She can doll herself up or she can beat Serena seven times in a row next year.” Cooky’s point, while hyerbolic, does show the two-dimensional rendering female athletes are subjected to when they go through the sports media machine.
That’s why it’s so important for athletes to get their stories out in the world, and why in recent years the number of athletes with professional representation, media training and PR
management has spiked. Katie Spellman manages Kvitova’s PR
efforts and when I asked her about the discrepancy in pay between Kvitova and players like Wozniacki and Ivanovic, she said, “Ivanovic and Wozniacki both have been #1 in the world. Ivanovic won a Slam. Ivanovic’s story is incredible [she lived through the NATO raids on Serbia and later trained in an abandoned swimming pool], and people know it. And she’s one of the most beautiful people in the world.”
Spellman added that “one of the reasons I was brought in was to raise her profile internationally.” Part of that meant improving Kvitova’s English. When she first started playing on tour, her command of the language was shaky, labored, an observation Chadwick mentioned that was holding Kvitova back from more sponsorship money. (Take the Slam she won, Wimbledon, which she referred to for a time as “the Wimbledons.”) But she’s improved her efforts since her breakout 2011 season.
Chadwick also said, “This may be a bad sign but I couldn’t find who represents her and if they’re big. If Kvitova were to sign with an agency like IMG, that would make her a very different commodity.” That may be true, but Spellman said it was important to note why Kvitova eschews the top international agencies. “Petra’s family didn’t have much money. Her contemporaries were all playing junior Slams, international tournaments while she was training in the Czech Republic with her father. Her manager, who’s Czech, provided Petra the opportunity to go to Prostejov [where the Czech Republic’s top tennis club is located] when she was 16. It goes back to Petra staying with the people she trusts.
That trust helps explain why Kvitova has worked to improve her English and embrace Twitter, Facebook and Sina Weibo: who better to trust with her narrative than Kvitova herself? Kvitova put it this way to FORBES, “Players should be on social media. It’s very important [for us] to show what we do off the court, and it’s a time for me to think of the fans.” I brought up some examples of players quitting Twitter after some particularly nasty trolls had reared their heads. Kvitova stopped me as I recounted those stories. She emphasized that she has a no-troll policy (after I explained what a troll was). “I’m not reading negative comments on social networks, and not focusing on those people. I made a mistake a few years ago reading stories and comments online during a tournament. It’s something that isn’t really about you. If you see those people in person, they would never talk to you [like that].”
Yes, Kvitova is a tougher sell to advertisers than other marquee players. Her inconsistency is constant. She doesn’t cut a ridiculously improbable figure like Ana Ivanovic. She doesn’t have the windfall of an economic giant like China. She unabashedly screams “Pojd!” when she hits winning shots on important points.
Her recent spell of form, semis or better in three of her last four tournaments, suggests that she may be returning to the game that won her Wimbledon and the WTA Champs two years ago. Or maybe not. She’s Petra Kvitova, a unique tennis talent near impossible to label and predict, at once supremely powerful and surprisingly introspective, a Pojding contradiction in terms, and for that the marketplace doesn’t fully embrace her.
When I asked Kvitova about winning tennis’ biggest tournament, she said, “It took me a while to understand the attention. I lost my privacy. It took time. The pressure is still on me but I think I’m handling it better.” Kvitova was adamant that her success today and any success to come is because of trust, in her team and ultimately in herself. She’s willing to leave some money on the table for now to hold onto that precious commodity.