SBJ/July 14-20, 2014/Events and Attractions

Three agencies looking to lock up Bouchard

As tennis’ summer tournament swing heats up, talent agencies are scrambling for a major prize: Eugenie Bouchard, this year’s Wimbledon runner-up.

The 20-year-old Canadian is nearing the end of her representation deal with Lagardère Unlimited. While agencies often fight over players early on in their careers (before they turn pro) or after players have been on tour and have had great success, it’s unusual for a player like Bouchard, with Hollywood looks and now results to match, to have a rep choice at this point in her career. 

In the running are Lagardère, which holds her rights through the end of the year; IMG, which represents Maria Sharapova; and Team8, Roger Federer’s agency. Lagardère, which has represented Bouchard since her junior days, recently cut a deal for her as the face of Coca-Cola in Canada (SportsBusiness Journal, June 23-29) and has worked to cement close ties to the family. During the tournament, Bouchard’s younger brother could often be found in the backyard of Lagardère’s rented house in the Wimbledon village playing ping-pong with one of the agents. Additionally, Bouchard is from French-influenced Montreal, and Lagardère is a French company.

Eugenie Bouchard added Wimbledon runner-up to her résumé.

Will that matter?

IMG under new owner William Morris Endeavor is clearly high on the talent business again, and WME co-chief Ari Emanuel was in town for several days. The agency already has the three top-earning female tennis players under its roof: Sharapova, Serena Williams and Li Na. That can cut both ways, though, with WME/IMG using them as case studies in how well it has done for top female tennis players, but the competition contending that the agency already has too many stars and that Bouchard would be just one of many. 

As for Team8, the agency formed by Federer and his agent, Tony Godsick, it counts Wimbledon semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov as a client. It is lacking a high-profile female client, so Bouchard would easily fit that bill. Godsick did recently battle with Nike trying unsuccessfully to move Dimitrov to Adidas, and Bouchard endorses Nike. Whether that could be a factor in any dealings for Bouchard is unknown, but Team8’s competitors could try to make it one.  

MARKETING CHALLENGER: The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club plans to formally complain to the local governing authority about New Balance ambush marketing at Wimbledon this year. The Boston-based footwear company leased space in a private home’s yard facing the sidewalk on which likely hundreds of thousands of fans walked during the fortnight from the local Tube stop to the event. In the yard, fans could measure the speed of their serves. The company also employed drivers on motor scooters with mini-New Balance billboards affixed to drive back and forth along Church Road, the narrow thoroughfare that runs from the Tube stop to the grass-court spectacle. 

Mick Desmond, the club’s commercial director, said he would urge Merton Council, which oversees the region where the tournament is played, to investigate whether the home was being used for commercial or private purposes. Clearly such action appears designed at least in part to scare off other homeowners from leasing their yards to companies that rival Wimbledon sponsors. In this case, the affected sponsor company was Babolat, the official footwear of the tournament. 

Babolat did not immediately respond for comment.

The identity of the homeowner was unknown. 

Wimbledon is particularly sensitive to the criticism because it has worked assiduously to commercially clean up the area leading to the tournament grounds, including cutting a deal with the London transit authority to remove FedEx last year as sponsor of the Southfields Tube stop, the main departure hub for Wimbledon fans. Before last year’s tournament, Desmond said, fans arriving at the station understandably would have thought FedEx had a relationship with the event. (The club has no sponsorship in this category.) 

New Balance set up in a front yard near the grounds.

The tournament used the phrase “Wimbledon Awaits” to spotlight the pathway of fans proceeding to the tournament grounds, with branding throughout the Tube station and signs on the sidewalks along Church Road. 

“There is a sense of arrival as much as when you get into the grounds,” Desmond said.

Wimbledon benefited from the 2012 Olympics being in London, which made government agencies aware of the concept of clean zones around venues, Desmond said. While the club paid for the branding in the station, he said, it helped that London transit officials understood why Wimbledon viewed the FedEx deal as a problem.

Ironically, Wimbledon’s newest sponsor, Stella Artois, which signed on this spring, ambush markets the U.S. Open Tennis Championships annually at the local subway and train stations adjacent to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Desmond said the event has no plans to contact New Balance directly, as he described it as obvious what the All England officials feel about the company’s effort. 

Officially, New Balance counts Milos Raonic, a Wimbledon semifinalist this year, as one of its player endorsers.

A New Balance spokeswoman wrote in an email, “The activation you’re seeing at Wimbledon is the first of its kind for New Balance at this tournament. The concept of the experience is for consumers to test the speed of their serve. The setup allows consumers to try on product and clock their serve speed for a chance to win a Milos bobblehead and New Balance tennis apparel (T-shirts). As far as I know, we have not had any direct contact with Wimbledon/All England Club, as this program is taking place on private property.”

WIMBLEDON’S WELCOME LINE: The Wimbledon queue is one of the great English traditions, and the All England Club has turned it into a marketing platform. Tournament sponsors HSBC and British soft drink Robinsons activated at the queue, which stretches a well-organized mile from the club toward Southfields. HSBC even had a tennis court on site with appearances from endorsers Lindsay Davenport and Goran Ivanisevic (both former Wimbledon champions) and former British Wimbledon hopeful Tim Henman

HSBC had its activation efforts on queue at Wimbledon.

The club leaves aside 8,000 tickets daily for fans in the queue, priced as low as $37. Five hundred of those tickets are for Centre Court. By 6 a.m., thousands of fans can already be lined up, especially on the middle Saturday morning. (Those in the know get there before the first Tube arrives at Southfields.) Like all things British, the queue is highly organized, with stewards directing fans and warning not to let belongings like blankets encroach on preset boundaries. 

NAME GAME: Like most agencies, Lagardère rents a house in the Wimbledon village for its agents and their families. The current one the agency has rented for five years running, but it perhaps took on greater meaning this year. That’s because it sits on Murray Road, and this year’s defending Wimbledon champion Andy Murray became a client of Lagardère’s in November.

COMCAST, TENNIS CHANNEL UPDATE: Settlement talks continue between Comcast and Tennis Channel in their long-running distribution dispute, said Ken Solomon, CEO of Tennis Channel. To recap: The FCC ruled Comcast discriminated against Tennis Channel by placing it on a sports tier, but an appeals court overturned the decision. Tennis Channel has refiled with the FCC using a different standard as laid out in the appeals court decision. 

Sitting on the set of Tennis Channel’s Wimbledon coverage, Solomon did little to hide his disdain for the court’s ruling, saying it had nothing to do with the case and everything to do with conservative judges hitting at the FCC. He also was quick to note that the court did not rule that Comcast had not discriminated, simply that the standard the FCC used was incorrect. 

Despite his disappointment, he said he will not file a brief with the Justice Department objecting to the proposed Comcast acquisition of Time Warner Cable. He also said there is a new tenor to the settlement talks and remains cautiously hopeful that a deal can be had before the FCC rules again. 

NEW PLAYER REPS: Tennis Channel executive David Egdes won another three years as a player representative on the ATP board of directors. Tennis Channel broadcaster Justin Gimelstob is another player rep. While unusual in other sports, such dual ties have long been commonplace in tennis. Solomon said the channel has the proverbial “Chinese wall” in place to account for any potential conflicts.

SIGNED AND SEEN: Octagon signed Fernando Verdasco. He had been with CAA Sports. … Simona Halep signed with Adidas. … Dimitrov re-signed with Nike after Adidas made a strenuous effort to sign him away (SportsBusiness Journal, April 14-20). … IMG terminated its rep deal with Bernard Tomic, the troubled but talented Aussie. … John Isner and Stan Wawrinka were elected to the ATP Player Council, which votes on the three player reps on the ATP board of directors. … Seen at Wimbledon: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Kraft has a connection to tennis in having owned World TeamTennis’ Boston Lobsters in the 1970s.

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