Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Tennis [Print without images]

Saturday, June 8, 2002
Updated: June 11, 4:56 PM ET
Now all Roddick needs is a Grand Slam title

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

Fourteen years ago, an 18-year-old Andre Agassi, sporting his trademark long, blonde mullet, broke onto the tennis scene. Just when Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe were fading, Agassi captivated sports fans worldwide by tossing his shirts and shorts into the crowd after a win. Companies like Ray Ban, Canon and Nike looking to associate their brands with the universal young, hip sports icon signed him immediately.

Andy Roddick
Andy Roddick has won five ATP titles and is ranked in the top 15. His charm as well as his talent have marketers lining up.
Agassi, now 32, married and a father, is preparing to bow out, and corporate America -- already deeply invested in American women tennis players -- is searching for the next kid to appeal to shrieking teenage girls and impressionable young guys.

That kid might be Andy Roddick, a good-looking, power server with skill to back up his raging confidence.

"Andy Roddick's time is now," said sports marketer Scott Becher of Sports & Sponsorships. "He's got Agassi's character and flamboyance, and although he's not the No. 1 player in the world, he's consistent enough that companies can feel good about buying into his personality as much as his performance. Guys like Gustavo Kuerten just don't have the swagger and attitude that he has."

Roddick bounces with an energy and enthusiasm on the court that caught the public's attention last year as he dramatically defeated Michael Chang in the second round of the French Open. It's that boyish, all-American charm that has corporate America panting at this early stage in his career.

To be fair, Roddick -- who turns 20 in late August -- doesn't quite have the credentials that Agassi had at the same age. Agassi turned pro at 15 and already had won eight titles, made the semifinals of the U.S. and French opens and achieved an ATP year-end ranking of No. 3 before he was 19. Roddick represented the United States in Davis Cup play last year, has won five titles and has not yet broken the top 10. He's certainly come a long way, though, moving from No. 325 in November 2000 as far up as No. 12 this year.

We feel he's going to be one of the few truly global icons. He's now at the point of breaking well beyond tennis, and he's already becoming a fashion icon.
Micky Pant, chief marketing officer at Reebok
Although he hasn't won a Grand Slam event -- he recently lost his first-round match at Roland Garros to Wayne Arthurs -- savvy sports marketers are starting to realize that waiting until after the U.S. Open to sign Roddick might be too late. Roddick made it to the quarterfinals at last year's U.S. Open.

Reebok, which signed Roddick to a long-term deal in 2000, is preparing a big campaign for the fall that will feature the tennis star and a soon-to-be named entertainer promoting the RBK "street-inspired" shoe and apparel collection.

"He's already red hot," said Micky Pant, chief marketing officer at Reebok, which will produce a Roddick shoe each year of his deal.

Tennis shoes, which are mostly white by consumer demand, account for less than 5 percent of Reebok's revenues. The company, whose vector logo is plastered on the front and back of Roddick's headgear, hopes Roddick will be able to sell products outside of the tennis category.

"We feel he's going to be one of the few truly global icons," Pant said. "He's now at the point of breaking well beyond tennis, and he's already becoming a fashion icon. I'm getting requests for marketing materials of him all over -- from England to France to Italy."

Despite Pant's claims of worldwide appeal, Bob Williams, president of marketing firm Burns Sports, says that Roddick, unlike Anna Kournikova, will not have companies fighting over him until he wins his first major.

"Especially in this economy, it's probably too soon for many companies to spend money on Andy," he said.

Roddick's SFX agent Ken Meyerson says he's definitely getting more calls, and there's an increasing interest coming from the non-tennis equipment or apparel sponsors.

"Over the last six to 10 months we've seen a real corporate interest for Andy that goes beyond the stale, boring men's tennis category," Meyerson said. "There are a lot of companies targeting the 18-25 demographic through extreme sports, but Andy is getting some of that interest, as well."

One of those companies interested in the man-child who freely uses the words "stoked" and "peace out" is Powerade, which recently signed him to an endorsement deal. Commercials with Roddick first appeared this past week on ESPN's French Open coverage.

Andy Roddick
Andy Roddick gets pumped up in a match.
Interest in Roddick also has been sparked by how comfortable he looks in front of the camera. He has appeared on a couple of TV variety shows, and on April 5 he made his television acting debut playing himself on "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch."

"I was very nervous to give it a go," Roddick said. "I just asked the director exactly what he wanted me to do, since I never acted before in my life."

Roddick laughs off the people who have suggested that his eccentric personality on the court is a marketing ploy.

"Anyone who actually thinks that I plan stuff out on the court is about as sharp as a marble," said Roddick, who has been known to pump his fist throw his racket into the crowd. "I am totally focused on winning tennis matches out there. That's tough enough without trying to do something else."

Both Pant and Meyerson say Roddick ripping off his shirt is his own personality manifesting itself.

Roddick says racking up millions in endorsements falls far behind winning on the court and spending the rare moments of free time with friends and family. But there's one endorsement he wants sooner rather than later.

"You know you've made it when you are on a Wheaties box," Roddick said. "That would be sweet."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business at ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn.com.