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Volume 20 No. 42
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Mercedes endorsement won’t be last for Li;‘We could do 25 deals,’ agent says

Could Li Na be the next Yao Ming, an endorsement star from China?

Li Na’s historic French Open victory has opened doors with sponsors.
When the French Open champion — the first player from her country to win a Grand Slam event — steps onto the Wimbledon greens this week, she will be a sporting a new Mercedes-Benz patch on her dress as part of a deal that sources said will cost the German automaker $5.8 million over three years. Another mega-deal, the sources said, is coming from a Chinese brand shortly after the fortnight that will eclipse the automaker’s.

“She has captivated a country,” said Max Eisenbud, Li’s agent at IMG, explaining the interest in his suddenly star client. “We could do 25 deals.”

About 116 million people in China watched Li’s Slam breakthrough earlier this month, according to the WTA Tour, ranking it in terms of viewership on par with the number of people who watch the Super Bowl in the United States. That kind of interest has Western companies that are eager to gain a brand presence in China looking to align with the 29-year-old player, a late bloomer by tennis standards. A similar wave followed Yao upon his arrival in the NBA in 2002.

Li added deals from Rolex and Häagen-Dazs after making the Australian Open final earlier this year. Now, no price may be too high.

Li Na's deals

SpiderTech (sports tape)

Compiled by SportsBusiness Journal

Eisenbud said he has received scores of requests for appearances before the U.S. Open in late August. His inclination has been to turn them down, but he threw out the figure of $200,000 for a short appearance, and he said he has had takers at that amount.
Those kinds of offers give Eisenbud, who also represents Maria Sharapova, confidence that Li will earn at least $40 million off-court over the next three years.

Sharapova’s off-court earnings, by comparison, are estimated at more than $25 million annually, the most in women’s sports.

Jeff Sofka, whose sports marketing agency Bendigo specializes in China, believes Li will be an asset not just in China but also in Chinese communities around the world.

In China, he predicted, she will be a star.

“Li Na has all the critical benchmarks that would make her a star,” he said. “Most important: being internationally successful outside of China.”