SBJ/Feb. 7-13, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Li's success seen as boost for tennis in China

Sixty-five million people in China watched the Australian Open final featuring their countrywoman Li Na, according to the WTA Tour, which cited CSM Media Research, a TV ratings agency that is a unit of WPP.

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Li Na made a run to the Australian Open final.
For context, consider that the Super Bowl gets about 100 million viewers in the United States.

Li’s run to the final — and her near win in the title match, which would have made her the first Asian Slam winner of either gender — sparked tremendous interest in China, where the game is emerging as a top sport.

“It will have huge impact on the WTA in China,” said WTA President David Shoemaker. “It will catapult her into the conversation with Yao Ming.”

While Li might have a ways to go before being on par with Houston Rockets center Yao — the 28-year-old’s play in Australia resonated little in the United States — the impact of her run in Asia was clear. Nike, for example, hosted viewing parties of the final across the country.

The WTA’s rights deal with CCTV, which broadcast the Australian Open in China, expires at the end of this season. CCTV’s deal is for the top 20 WTA events, and Shoemaker, who opened the WTA’s Beijing office several years ago, is confident the rights fee will rise with the help of Li’s success.

As for Li, this week she will unveil two new endorsement deals, said Max Eisenbud, her IMG agent who also represents Maria Sharapova. Nike was so eager to keep her last year that it cut a deal that allowed her to sell patches on her apparel, the first deal of its kind for Nike in a long time, Eisenbud said. Nike is known for its “clean” contracts, prohibiting patches.

Eisenbud also is planning a series of Asian exhibitions between Li and Sharapova.

Before Australia, Li had only two endorsements: Nike and her tennis racket maker, Babolat. During the Open, she signed with SpiderTech for medical bandages, and she will add the two new deals this week.

“We are going to be aggressive to do deals,” Eisenbud said.

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