- Kristi Dosh, Sports Business
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When world No. 1 tennis player Victoria Azarenka defends her title at the Australian Open this week, don’t be surprised if you see her sipping a Red Bull. Monday, Azarenka’s team at Lagardère Unlimited announced a multiyear endorsement deal with Red Bull, which makes her the first tennis player signed by the beverage giant.
For Azarenka, the partnership was a natural fit.
"I am really excited to be part of the Red Bull family,” said Azarenka. “I've always enjoyed the product and admired how they have worked with their athletes."
Drew LeMesurier, director of talent marketing for Lagardère's tennis division, wasn’t surprised to see Red Bull make the move into tennis by joining forces with the rising star.
“She has a certain swagger about her [that is] consistent with the Red Bull culture,” said LeMesurier.
Azarenka joins Red Bull’s growing stable of athletes outside of the action sports world. Other Red Bull athletes in U.S. professional sports include NBA players Blake Griffin, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams, MLB players Tim Lincecum and Jimmy Rollins, and NFL players Reggie Bush and DeMarcus Ware.
The Red Bull deal adds to Azarenka’s growing stable of corporate partners. She started last year with a new Wilson racket deal, worth more than $2 million over four years. SportsBusiness Journal’s Daniel Kaplan noted the deal was “a huge sum for a racket deal.” She also resigned with Nike in a deal estimated to bring in approximately $4 million annually if she stays ranked in the top five.
Azarenka also signed with Citizen Watch in August. Her other deals are with American Express and Six Star Pro Nutrition.
According to SportsBusiness Journal, Azarenka earned approximately $3 million in prize money and exhibition guarantees last year. In 2012, Azarenka won her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, along with wins at Sydney, Doha, Indian Wells, Beijing and Linz. She also brought home two medals from the London Olympics, a bronze medal for women’s singles and a gold medal for mixed doubles.
Although Azarenka is the top-ranked player in the world, she’s not the highest-earning woman in tennis. Maria Sharapova has that title and is the 26th highest-paid athlete in the world, according to Forbes. Her endorsements of $22 million last year had her tied for 10th in the world. Chinese star Li Na ranks 81st in the world for overall earnings, the only other female tennis player to make Forbes' top 100 list. Forbes estimated her endorsements at $17 million last year.
SportsBusiness Journal projects that Azarenka could earn in the high seven figures this year from prize money and exhibition guarantees, but notes that Sharapova, Serena Williams, Li and former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki all earn in the eight-figure range.
LeMesurier says comparisons to Sharapova are a little like comparing apples to oranges.
“Maria [Sharapova] won Wimbledon at 16, which is an unbelievable accomplishment. It was a perfect storm,” said LeMesurier.
“What we’re seeing with Victoria is she came on the scene at a later time -- she’s 23 -- but we think we’re aligning her with some really blue-chip partners with a global footprint. We hope in a few years she’ll be in the same landscape as Maria.”
LeMesurier says Citizen wants to use Azarenka more in the style and fashion landscape and points out she’s already in their ads in InStyle magazine.
To build her own brand, LeMesurier says Azarenka is bringing a digital media director along on her travels. This person is capturing media for Azarenka’s website and creating webisodes.
“It’s a way to authentically showcase her partnerships by showing her away from the game,” LeMesurier said. “It’s a luxury many players can’t afford, but it’s an investment in her business.”
Azarenka plays the first match to defend her Australian Open title on Tuesday.