SBJ/November 5 - 11, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Whiff on Roddick drives new Nike deal

Sneaker and apparel giant Nike plans to sign 15-year-old tennis player Brendan Evans, who until last week had not even played in a professional tournament, to a four- to five-year contract, said several tennis sources.

Evans will receive up to $250,000 annually plus performance bonuses. That may not seem like much compared with multimillion-dollar endorsements for the likes of Venus Williams and Tiger Woods, but it is stunning considering that most players in tennis' top 30, male or female, don't command such a sum, and Evans is probably at least a year away from even playing on the ATP Tour.

The contract is also impressive because it signals that notwithstanding the weak economy, a company like Nike is still willing to roll the dice on untested athletes in the right situation.

The reason for Nike's gamble: It doesn't want to get "Roddicked." Nike passed two years ago on then 17-year-old Andy Roddick, who signed a deal with Reebok for about $250,000 annually for five years. Roddick has soared into the top 20, and his charisma and fire appear to make him a sure-bet superstar.

"Roddick affected the price tag," said one rival executive at a footwear and sneaker company.

With Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi apparently in the twilight of their careers, Nike's stable of male tennis players is somewhat bare.

"I don't want to discuss [the deal] until we have it wrapped up," said Mike Nakajima, director of Nike's tennis sports marketing group. Evans' agents at IMG, Tony Godsick and Max Eisenbud, wouldn't comment.

More than most sports, tennis, in which the players are essentially independent contractors with steep training and living expenses, sees competitors forge contractual relationships with sneaker companies at young ages. Eight years ago a then 12-year-old Anna Kournikova signed a long-term deal with Adidas. Williams, now 20, signed her first Reebok contract at 14.

"The fear of being left out is very strong in the decision-making sometimes," said Martin Mulligan, Fila's tennis talent scout.

"But a Roddick only comes along once every 10 or 15 years," he warned, adding that Fila had not been interested in signing Evans.

Evans wore Adidas apparel and sneakers the last two years, and the German footwear company competed to sign the youngster, sources said. But Nike's big bucks were too much to contend with. Adidas wouldn't comment.

Evans is coached by Harold Solomon, an ATP and WTA board member, who tutored Jennifer Capriati during her comeback last year. At 6-foot-2 and likely still growing, Evans is among several young Americans to grab a lucrative deal, including Roddick and, before him, James Blake with Nike. Blake only recently cracked the top 100.

Evans won the prestigious Eddie Herr International tournament last year in the 14-year-old age group and this year played in his first U.S. Open juniors tennis championship, losing in the second round to the No. 2-ranked junior player in the world in a tough three sets. That match, sources said, grabbed the attention of many in tennis.

Last week he played in a "futures" in Hattiesburg, Miss., akin to a Class A minor league. He is ranked No. 54 in the International Tennis Federation's junior ranking, the highest level for any 15-year-old.

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