SBJ/June 18 - 24, 2001/This Weeks Issue

Capriati seeks to capitalize

Jennifer Capriati could become the next female athlete to score a megabucks endorsement contract, on the heels of her French Open victory.

Capriati's agent, IMG, is renegotiating the tennis star's apparel and racket contracts. Capriati signed a three-year clothing and footwear contract with Fila in early 2000 when she was still working on a comeback that this year has seen her win the first two legs of the sport's Grand Slam.

That contract, sources said, pays her less than a six-figure annual guarantee, though performance bonuses could bring her close to $1 million this year if she wins several more major tournaments. That leaves her well behind many other top tennis players, even though she is now ranked No. 4 in the world and rising.

Venus Williams, for example, signed a five-year, nearly $40 million deal with Reebok last December, and Anna Kournikova and Martina Hingis command $2 million to $3 million annual guarantees from their shoe and clothing sponsor (both are Adidas endorsers).

So the Fila talks are sure to revolve around substantial increases in money. Capriati's current contract gives both sides the option of ending the deal after this year.

"We anticipate we are going to reach an agreement that both parties are comfortable with," said Howe Burch, Fila's head of sports marketing. "But we haven't got into the numbers."

IMG's Barbara Perry, who manages Capriati, expressed hope that a deal could be concluded in several weeks.

"We are waiting for offers from these companies," she said of Fila and Capriati's racket company, Prince, which also is renegotiating its deal.

Timing could be everything. Were Capriati to win Wimbledon, which begins next Monday, the media attention leading up to the U.S. Open Tennis Championships would likely be enormous as she tried to complete the Grand Slam.

"The visibility for us is such a great story," Burch said of the coverage Capriati's French victory attracted. "Look at the front page of The New York Times, Washington Post front page. Every major publication in the world she is the lead sports story." Nearly all those stories featured photos of Capriati in a Fila cap and dress.

Fila planned a full-page ad promoting Capriati's affiliation with the Italian company in the Sports Illustrated that hit the stands late last week.

IMG's Perry also said she would try to negotiate some non-tennis deals for the 24-year-old Capriati. She endorsed a wireless phone company last year, but the firm entered bankruptcy proceedings, Perry said. That leaves her with just Prince and Fila.

No blockbuster deals are expected for the French Open men's winner, Gustavo Kuerten, whose plate is already quite full of deals with Diadora, Head, Banco do Brasil, Motorola and globo.com.

Kuerten's decision to skip Wimbledon because of a groin injury, and perhaps because of his stated dissatisfaction with the tournament's seeding plans, has caused no complaints from sponsors, said Jorge Salkeld, the Brazilian's agent with Octagon.

"They all understand what he is going through," Salkeld said.

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