SBJ/March 17-23, 2014/Marketing and Sponsorship

Azarenka to endorse Esurance

Victoria Azarenka has agreed to a two-year endorsement deal with Esurance, a pact that gives the car insurance brand another connection in tennis.

Azarenka, the No. 4-ranked player on the WTA Tour, joins the doubles team of brothers Bob and Mike Bryan as endorsers for the company. The Bryans, who have endorsed Esurance since 2011, are adding one more year to their contract, taking them through 2015.

No. 4-ranked Azarenka has 1.5 million social media followers.
Photo by: RON ANGLE
Esurance is the second American brand to sign a European WTA player in recent weeks. The Cheesecake Factory signed Agnieszka Radwanska, from Poland, earlier this month (SportsBusiness Journal, March 3-9 issue). Azarenka is from Belarus.

In both cases, social media is a key component of the deal.

“What we lean on with Vika is her social media presence,” said Chris Lee, Esurance’s senior manager of brand partnerships, referencing Azarenka by her nickname. “With her having combined [more than] 1.5 million followers, we can promote what we are doing in tennis.”

Azarenka has 969,000 “likes” on Facebook, 446,000 followers on Twitter, and 119,000 followers on Instagram.
Azarenka is required to mention Esurance through her social media accounts, though the company declined to specify the frequency called for in the contract.

While Azarenka may have a large social media following, she is not well-known in the United States, with an 11 percent awareness rating, according to the Celebrity DBI, which measures potential endorser popularity for corporate customers. That ranks her No. 857 out of the 1,143 athletes the Repucom unit tracks. By contrast,
Serena Williams’ awareness rating is 91 percent.

Esurance CEO Gary Tolman cited tennis’ upscale demographics and the ability of the company to have the car insurance space to itself in the sport as among the reasons to sign Azarenka. Industry competitors Geico and State Farm sponsor other sports,
Esurance endorsers the Bryan brothers, shown in a spot for the brand, are repped by Lagardère Unlimited, also Azarenka’s agency.
with Esurance now spending mid-seven figures annually in tennis, he said. That includes sponsorship of the U.S. Open, BNP Paribas Open and other smaller events.

Esurance is owned by Allstate but operates independently within the corporation.

Tolman also said he wanted a female endorser to add diversity to the company’s marketing.

The Azarenka deal is for low seven figures over the two years. She will make appearances on behalf of the company and appear in advertising. Esurance is still deciding whether to tap her for a TV ad, as it did last year with the Bryan brothers. That spot ran on ESPN and CBS during the U.S. Open.

Unlike Radwanska’s deal, the Azarenka pact came through an existing relationship between her agency, Lagardère Unlimited, and Esurance. Lagardère represents the Bryan brothers, and in fact, extending them a year was critical to the Azarenka deal, as the agency did not want the brothers to feel they were being dropped in favor of another agency client.

In Radwanska’s case, she heavily promoted The Cheesecake Factory on her Twitter account organically. Lagardère, also her agency, then reached out to the company for VIP access, and from that contact came the deal.

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