The ATP is greatly relaxing restrictions on advertising on players’ apparel, roughly doubling the number of corporate logos they can wear, increasing the allowable size of the brand images and partially lifting the ban on gambling companies.
The new rules went into effect last week, and John Isner is one player poised to take quick advantage of the changes. Isner is expected to feature a logo from a supplements company on his cap during a tournament in Australia this week as part of a new endorsement deal.
|A mockup shows how a hat logo might appear.
“We have always wanted the rules to be loosened,” said Sam Duvall, Isner’s agent at Lagardère Unlimited. “It was not easy with only two corporate sponsors [allowed].”
The moves make the ATP more like golf. The PGA Tour’s rules state, “As a guideline, no more than four different sponsor logos should appear on a player’s clothing and headwear,” though the golf circuit also has allowances for slogans and words.
“By no means do we want to become walking billboards like NASCAR,” said Justin Gimelstob, a former player and a member of the seven-person ATP board of directors that signed off on the changes. “[But] from a player’s perspective, we need to let them monetize their brand.”
In addition to the newly allowed headwear logo, which must be on the side of the cap, players now also can sell one space on the front of their shirts. The new rules allow players to sell an additional spot as well, on the back of the shirt by the collar, but that company must be an existing ATP sponsor.
As for the ATP’s other changes, players for the first time will be allowed to sign deals with gaming companies, though only if those firms do not take bets on tennis; and the new size rules allow for sleeve logos to grow from 4 square inches to 6 square inches.
The newly allowed shirt-front space is limited to 4 square inches.
Tennis long has sought to project a clean look, thus the rationale behind the limitation on patches, and the new ATP rules only go so far. They do not apply to the Grand Slam events, the first of which, the Australian Open, starts next week, and the WTA Tour’s policy continues to mirror the old ATP rules, allowing two commercial logos only on sleeves. Still, that leaves 61 ATP events, plus the season-ending championships in London, for new exposure opportunities.
The policy change was needed because while the top players are doing well financially, Gimelstob said, the ones ranked below roughly 20th need more financial opportunities. Gimelstob pushed for a more aggressive policy, including allowing the headwear logo on the front, not the side. Board members representing tournaments resisted that in part out of fear of conflicting with their own event sponsors.
David Dean, vice president of sales and marketing at Star Scientific, which was scheduled to announce the Isner supplement deal today, said the side is fine.
“I don’t think it matters, if he is wearing the hat and moving around,” Dean said.
Star Scientific, whose anti-inflammatory brand Anatabloc will be featured on Isner’s cap, expects to enjoy wide exposure both on and off the court because Isner usually wears his headwear away from play, Dean said. The new ATP rules do prohibit Isner from wearing the cap during on-court ceremonies.
Isner is receiving shares in Star Scientific, which is listed on Nasdaq, but no cash for the deal. The endorsement is valued similar to a sleeve deal, which for a player like Isner ranked in or near the top 10 would fetch a mid-six-figure sum annually.
How much players might benefit, in total, from the rule changes varies widely. For elite players like Isner, and players from larger markets, the new space should be a boon, bringing in potentially millions of dollars more than they otherwise would have gotten under the old ATP policy. Many other players, however, struggle to sell the space they already had been allotted, so the degree to which the changes will help the lower-ranked players Gimelstob wants to aid is less certain.