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MKTG Insights: Canadian Tennis Serving Up A Sponsorship Opportunity

MKTG Insights: Canadian Tennis Serving Up A Sponsorship Opportunity

Advantage, Canada: As the eyes of the tennis world have turned to Westmount, Quebec's Eugenie Bouchard and Thornhill, Ontario's Milos Raonic - and the remarkable run by both athletes at the 2014 French Open - marketers are beginning to acknowledge Tennis as an ownable sponsorship territory. The success of Canada's top tennis players on the world stage has created a spike in momentum for a sport that has seen fan avidity ebb and flow for decades. What began last August during Raonic's run to the final of the 2013 Rogers Cup in Montreal, continued through to Bouchard's semi-final appearance  at the Australian Open, and has culminated in Roland Garros this week is becoming a sustained pattern of success rather than a needle in a haystack phenomenon.

Just as Canada's tennis stars have demonstrated excellence in their play, they have demonstrated top-tier marketability and endorsement power. Both stars have crossover appeal from a lifestyle perspective, are relevant home and abroad, and are still at early stages in their career arc - their relevance and clout will trend upwards. MKTG break's down the sponsorship potential of Raonic and Bouchard:

Raonic and Bouchard share a blue-chip Canadian sponsor like Rogers in the Telco category, and have each attracted their own individual deals with brands like SAP, New Balance (Raonic) and Bouchard (Nike, Pinty's). In Tennis, sustained recognition and relevance with a mainstream audience comes down to winning Grand Slam tournaments. Much of tennis-themed marketing is monopolized by a selected few: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic on the men's side and Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, and Li Na on the women's side. There are sponsorship categories specific to tennis that invest heavily in tennis stars at the top of the endorsement pyramid; these are the categories to watch as it refers Raonic and Bouchard and their growing portfolios: Watch brands, Consumer Electronic brands, F.I. brands, and fashion/lifestyle brands in the case of Bouchard.

Leveraging the Individual:

The challenge for tennis in Canada - and for brand partners who invest in it- remains: can the sport leverage the star power of a select few into an effective mass marketing platform? In an individual sport like Tennis, it can be difficult for sponsors to tell a community narrative. Thematically, the sport lacks a rich narrative surrounding teamwork and camaraderie, which is so often the source of how sponsors tie programming back to a CSR / employee engagement component. Hockey is the most cluttered sports territory for marketing in Canada not simply because of its mass relevance as a sport. Hockey fundamentally represents values that bring Canadians together - tradition, history, and community. Tennis is a sport that has already struggled with perceptions about being elitist and one in which participation is restricted to the country-club elite. However, 80% of tennis participation occurs on public courts according to Tennis Canada. Tennis has an effective story to tell in this country. It will take a smart sponsor with a tight strategy to tell that story effectively and bring tennis back to a purpose-driven strategy.

In Canada, no brand has truly leveraged tennis to develop a program that deeply connects to communities. Only one brand in particular has attempted to activate their tennis sponsorship through a national CSR program: National Bank.

Quebec-based F.I. collects tennis balls and redistributes them to place under the classroom chairs so that children will have a quieter learning environment. National Bank has leveraged Canadian tennis personalities to be the face of the program. However, the program is still removed from having an emotional connection with Canadians.

Beyond National Bank, tennis as a territory has few brands in an ownership position in Canada. Rogers likely has the greatest attribution to the sport due to their long-time commitment to Canada's crown jewel event, The Rogers Cup, as well as their grassroots commitments. White space exists for brands, but with a finite amount of properties in the country, simply acquiring rights fees will not work. There is limited domestic activation surrounding tennis though. Brands who out-activate have the opportunity to breakthrough and differentiate.

Making Tennis the Ace of Your Portfolio:

Despite challenges, Tennis represents a unique offering to Canadian brands:

- Like all individual sports -  tennis can offer brands the chance to interact with participants/consumers on a personal journey of accomplishment. This is why so many brands go the route of sponsoring an individual versus national sports associations, or tournaments.

- A fan base that is over-indexed on purchasing power, is gender-neutral, and is embracive of new tech.

- A growing participation base (6% annual growth since 2002)

- Heightened relevance during hockey off-season

With second-tier sports in Canada, brands who partner early and help fuel growth will be seen as builders. Intact Insurance (MKTG client) has done this with speed skating, Bell/Nike with basketball, and RBC with golf. As fans celebrate the run by Canada's tennis superstars, expect more brand activity surrounding the sport and its top Canadian talent.

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