Li has potential to net new clients

Updated: 2011-06-17 11:56

By Fu Yu (China Daily European Weekly)

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Li has potential to net new clients 

Li Na kisses the championship trophy after winning the French Open women’s final against Italian Francesca Schiavone at Roland Garros in Paris on June 4.PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

After winning her first major title, Chinese tennis star could be marketing ace for foreign brands

Newly-crowned French Open tennis champion Li Na may be just the pill that brand doctors prescribe for brands that are struggling to make an impact in the highly competitive Chinese marketplace.

Earlier this month, Li made tennis history by becoming the first Chinese woman to win a Grand Slam in singles. She won the French Open women's singles title in Paris, but more importantly she is now seen as the celebrity that represents the face of a modern China that is increasingly making an impact on the global center stage.

Li has potential to net new clients 

What makes Li even more appealing is that she is the face of young Chinese who are ambitious, confident and determined to make a mark in whatever they do, but still are modest and humble about their achievements.

Li's brand appeal is certain to surge, as she is easily the most recognized sports personality in China now, says Qiang Wei, the director for sports marketing at the advertising company Ogilvy & Mather.

Though the world's largest sports agency, International Management Group Worldwide, looks after Li's endorsements, there are indications that a foreign luxury car brand and an international financial institution have already approached Li for representing them.

"Li is now ranked No 4 in the world tennis rankings and her endorsement fees will go up more than eightfold from six months ago," says Qiang, who refused to disclose details of the endorsement deals.

Her current popularity is such that she may soon eclipse other well-known Chinese sports personalities, such as basketball star Yao Ming and hurdler Liu Xiang. "Li's endorsement fee could reach 200 million yuan (21 million euros) this year, far exceeding the 130 million yuan of NBA superstar Yao Ming," says a Guangzhou Daily report quoting famous CCTV host Rui Chenggang.

Li was making strides on the brand endorsement front earlier this year after advancing to her first Grand Slam singles final at the Australian Open.

Prior to the Australian Open, Li had just one brand endorsement - sportswear maker Nike. But in February, Li was roped in by US ice cream maker Haagen-Dazs to endorse its products.

But Li hit the big time when she joined other tennis stars, such as Roger Federer and Ana Ivanovic, to promote Swiss luxury watch brand Rolex. The endorsements have also helped Li leapfrog to the 35th position in the 2011 Forbes China celebrity list, with an estimated personal income of 30.87 million yuan. That ranking is certain to jump when the next rankings are announced, experts say.

According to a recent report in the Yangcheng Evening News, Li could expect to rake in 150 million yuan endorsement fees from domestic enterprises this year, aside of the 20 million yuan from Nike, 18 million yuan from Rolex and 8 million yuan from Haagen-Dazs.

NBA star Yao Ming currently endorses international brands such as Pepsi, Gatorade sports drinks, McDonald's, Visa, Apple computers and Chinese brands such as China Unicom CDMA and China Life Insurance.

Mike Bastin, visiting British professor of brand management at China Agriculture University in Beijing says besides being an accomplished athlete, Li has a humorous personality that is infectious. "She is much more than a successful tennis player and can build brand value with a wide range of brands, not necessarily sports brands alone."

"Compared with Yao Ming, who is managed by the NBA team, and Liu Xiang who was managed by the General Administration of Sports of China, Li Na has more freedom in choosing her sponsors," Qiang says.

In 2008, Li and a handful of other promising players were released from the duties imposed by the official State tennis system and allowed to choose their own coaches and support teams.

Since then, she has had to be responsible for her own financial security. Without financial support from the government, she had to rely on sponsorships and her own winnings from matches to continue her training and further participate in other tournaments.

"I have to thank my sponsors, the tournament organizers and my team," Li Na said during her speech after winning the French Open Final.

"Li's word of thanks for the sponsors during her victory speech will make her extremely popular with brands. She has a reputation of being easy to deal with and is seen as a person who is willing to work with brands," says Qiang.

Industry experts also say that with tennis becoming a more popular and commercial sport, it will help her win over big brands.

"Tennis is a sport that is viewed in virtually every nation in the world," says Bastin.

Qiang, who is also a consultant with the China Tennis Association, says though tennis is still considered an elite game that lags basketball, football and table tennis, Li's victory will propel more Chinese youngsters to play tennis.

However, Qiang also says that whether Li's commercial value will go up depends on whether she can extend her sporting career and avoid career-threatening sports injuries.

Bastin adds that with the Chinese market becoming the hotbed of global competition, more and more foreign firms will scout for local celebrities to endorse products or brands to enhance their competitiveness.


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