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Study Shows Serena Is Most Marketable Female Athlete


By Tennis Week
09/22/2003

Serena Williams' success continues to transcend the tennis court. The six-time Grand Slam champion is no longer ranked No. 1 on the WTA Tour, but tops the list as the most marketable female athlete in the world.

A survey conducted by The Sports Business Daily polled nearly 60 prominent marketing, advertising and PR execs, sponsorship consultants, sports business journalists, and other experts over the past two months. All of the survey participants were asked: "In your opinion, who are the five most marketable female athletes?" The athletes were awarded points on a sliding scale, with five points given for a first-place vote down to one point for a fifth-place vote.

Serena dominated the voting receiving 34 first-place votes (60.7 percent of the first-place votes cast) to finish first and nearly triple the total of golfer Annika Sorenstam, who was second with 12 first-place votes, which was 21.4 percent of the vote. Soccer star Mia Hamm, who was featured on the cover of the recent Sports Illustrated, was third, Venus Williams finished fourth, WNBA player Lisa Leslie was fifth and Internet Icon Anna Kournikova was sixth.

"Serena is sexy, sassy, strong," The Bonham Group chair Dean Bonham said. "If she stays healthy, she has marketing legs. Extra points for her ability to appeal to multicultural audiences."

The two-time U.S. Open champion, who celebrates her 22nd birthday on Friday, often describes herself as "an entertainer" rather than simply an athlete and has become a prominent presence in advertising campaigns through her endorsement deals with Puma, Wrigley, Avon and McDonald’s.

Tennis fans have watched Williams turn the WTA Tour into her own personal stage where she stars as the world's top-player reducing the rest of the WTA cast to role players. Williams is beginning to rival J. Lo in her efforts to master all entertainment mediums. She made her acting debut in October playing a kindergarten teacher on the ABC prime-time sitcom "My Wife and Kids", recently completed filming a role as a reformed gang member on the Showtime series "Street Time", has appeared as a model in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue as well as in fashion photo spreads in Vogue and Ebony magazines and is a successful star of commercials and ads.

"Serena Williams stands head and shoulders above her competition in terms of appeal on Madison Avenue," said Abraham Madkour, executive editor of The
Sports Business Daily and SportsBusiness Journal. "A proven winner on the
court, Serena is well-positioned to translate that success to greater commercial opportunities, and her foray into acting should only heighten her appeal."

Venus Williams, did not receive a first-place vote in the survey, but still finished fourth and remains a strong marketing presence, though some executives view Venus as a second option to Serena.

"(Venus has) all the same qualities as her sister, but it's apparent her reign at the top was brief," Steiner Sports executive vice president Matt Lalin said. "It's a little bit like 'we couldn't afford Serena, so we took Venus' if you're an advertiser."

If one Williams sister represents a proven revenue winner for advertisers, the endorsement power of both sisters is as potent as their doubles play.

"Individually, Serena and Venus are powerful endorsers for clients, however, together they are unstoppable on and off the court," Relay Sports Marketing CEO Wally Hayward said.

Injuries have sidelined Kournikova from the WTA Tour to the point where many marketing executives are already referring to her tennis career in the past tense, yet Kournikova's calendar-girl image has helped her retain her place in the top 10 of most marketable female athletes.

"Though some would argue the 'sport' part, the fact is she was on tour and good enough that people know her name," Q Sports Founder Patrick Quinn said, "She did her job, let the marketers do theirs."

It was the second time in recent months Serena has emerged at the top of a female athlete category. Williams, who has won 40 of her last 41 Grand Slam matches, edged Leslie, Sorenstam and UConn basketball player Diana Taurasi to earn the female athlete of the year award at the annual ESPY awards in July.

The Sports Business Daily last conducted such a survey in 1998, when
Mia Hamm was voted the most-marketable female athlete, followed by figure skating’s Michelle Kwan, Venus Williams, figure skating’s Tara Lipinski and
Anna Kournikova.

Results of The Sports Business Daily's 2003 survey are listed here:

Athlete Sport Total Points Percent Of 1st Place Votes
Serena Williams Tennis 219 60.7
Annika Sorenstam Golf 156 21.4
Mia Hamm Soccer 124 7.1
Venus Williams Tennis 89 0.0
Lisa Leslie Basketball 53 1.8
Anna Kournikova Tennis 34 1.8
Michelle Kwan Skating 25 3.6
Marion Jones Track 25 3.6
Michelle Wie Golf 19 0.0
Sue Bird Basketball 14 0.0
 
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