ATP World Tour players are not likely to end up looking like ad-decorated Tour de France cyclists anytime soon, but they will have the ability this year to increase the amount of ad space they can sell on their shirts and hats to sponsors.
Although the changes won’t be in effect at Grand Slam events such as this week’s Australian Open, they will be for 61 ATP events and the championship at season’s end.
Under the old rules, a player could sell two 4-inch-by-4-inch patches on his sleeves to companies other than his apparel company, and his headwear could feature only his apparel or racket company. The new rules allow for a logo on the side of his headwear, which does not have to be for his apparel or racket company, and two additional spots on the front of his shirt and the back of his shirt by the collar.
However, the sponsor on the back of his shirt must be an ATP sponsor. As for the two sleeve patches already allowed, they can now be 6 square inches.
The changes are broad, but how many players could actually sell that much space?
“There’s a rough cutoff where it’ll be really impactful,” said Drew LeMesurier, director of talent marketing for the tennis division of Lagardère Unlimited. “The top players will benefit from having more inventory.”
Players lower in the rankings sometimes had trouble selling even the space allotted to them under the old rules, but LeMesurier says there’s still something in the new rules for them.
“The biggest plus is the size increase of the patches for the lower guys. It’s pretty significant,” he said. “Golf patches are bigger, and that’s their comparable. This might be an opportunity to take someone who invested in golf and get them moved over.”
Golf isn’t the only sport that allows patches on a player’s attire. The WNBA and MLS already allow for sponsorship patches on jerseys, and the NBA has been considering following suit. NFL teams, such as the New York Giants, sell space on their practice jerseys.
“You get to a point where there could be saturation,” said Jim Andrews, sponsorship group IEG’s senior vice president of content strategy. “I think, because of that issue of clutter and saturation, where I could see things going is for the sponsors to say, ‘If we’re going to do this and make it worthwhile, we really need to look more at the model of the European soccer clubs where it’s very prominent.’ There’s no doubt who Manchester United’s sponsor [Aon] is. There’s a very clear association.”
Nike is already doing that in the tennis space.
“I’d say about 95 percent of Nike contracts don’t allow for any patches,” LeMesurier said.
Some of the game’s top athletes are signed with Nike, including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Don’t worry about those guys, though. According to Forbes, they ranked No. 2 and No. 7 in the world in regard to income from endorsements last year.
“There will have to be some sort of consideration for lost opportunities,” LeMesurier said of Nike athletes who have exclusivity clauses. He says they’ll most likely address the issue as players come up for renewal.
Andrews expects more apparel companies will move toward the exclusive model, potentially rendering the new sponsorship rules a non-issue.
In the meantime, John Isner, who is ranked 13th on the ATP World Tour and is the top-ranked American, has inked what’s believed to be the first sponsorship deal under the new rules. He’ll wear the logo for dietary supplement Anatabloc on his hat and, in return, has received shares in Anatabloc parent company Star Scientific. SportsBusiness Journal reported the deal is comparable to a sleeve deal, which for a player ranked similarly to Isner would net a mid-six-figure sum annually. Isner left Nike last January for Lacoste.