Can Emma Raducanu become sports’ first billion dollar woman?
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Can Emma Raducanu become sports’ first billion dollar woman?

Emma Raducanu’s US Open victory netted the 18-year old Brit $2.5 million in prize money. She’s about to make much more from sponsorship deals.

“I think Emma will earn well over $100 million [in the next calendar year]. She’ll eclipse all the men,” said Jonathan Shalit, the chairman of InterTalent Group, a London-based talent management agency.

Shalit, who represented British double gold Olympic boxer Nicola Adams, added that the world’s biggest brands will be “knocking down Emma’s door.” That could lead to lucrative sponsorship deals across fashion, jewelry, cosmetics, skincare and haircare, he told CNN Business.

Raducanu defeated Canadian teen Leylah Fernandez in straight sets on Saturday, becoming the youngest grand slam winner since Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004 at the age of 17. She is also the first player in history to win one of the top four tournaments after gaining entry by fighting through qualifying rounds. Her victory made the front pages of newspapers around the world on Sunday and Monday, including The New York Times and The Guardian.

In China, Raducanu’s win was hailed by state-run media and trended on social media platform Weibo, where fans celebrated her Chinese heritage. She was born in Canada to a Chinese mother and Romanian father before moving to the United Kingdom when she was two years old.

“Global brands will seek her endorsement — alongside her current sponsors Nike and Wilson — given her appeal as a Canadian, Romanian, Chinese, British citizen of the world. Expect the bidding war to start today,” said Allyson Stewart-Allen, CEO of International Marketing Partners.

Raducanu is “a marketer’s dream,” Stewart-Allen, an associate fellow at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, said in a statement.

Following her win, Raducanu addressed fans in Mandarin in a short video posted to the US Open’s official Weibo account. In Britain, Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prime Minister Boris Johnson were among those who congratulated the rising tennis star.

Raducanu has “captured the imagination of the world,” continued Shalit. “People who would have no interest in tennis are totally captivated by her,” he added. “If Emma wins Wimbledon next year and [can] be an ongoing champion for the next five to 10 years, [she] will be become the world’s first billion-dollar female sports star.”

That would place her among an elite group of athletes with long-running careers that includes the likes of basketball legend Michael Jordan, golfer Tiger Woods and fellow tennis player Roger Federer.

Federer became the sixth active athlete to reach $1 billion in career earnings this year, Forbes reported last month. He has earned $90.6 million in 2021 alone from tournament wins and sponsorship deals, making him the highest paid player in tennis. Japan’s Naomi Osaka ranks second at $60.1 million, followed by Williams at $41.8 million.

Osaka is the highest-paid female athlete of all time, according to Forbes.

Catching up to Osaka

The big money in tennis is earned off the court. Federer, Osaka and Williams enjoy incomes from sponsorship deals that eclipse their tournament winnings, highlighting the potential payday that could be coming Raducanu’s way.

But it could be several years before her earnings overtake Federer, and when it comes to attracting endorsements from big brands she will be up against another young favorite in Osaka, according to Simon Chadwick, global professor of the Eurasian Sport Industry at Emlyon Business School in France.

Predictions of Raducanu earning over $100 million as a consequence of a single grand slam win are “way off the mark,” he told CNN Business. “A tennis star has to sustain high levels of success over a period of years to earn this kind of sum. And the task is often harder for female players who are commonly paid less than their male counterparts,” he added.

The US Open victory is a “good start,” but Raducanu will need to keep winning if she is to enter the “big money league,” he added.

It helps that she speaks Mandarin, which could attract Chinese brands seeking to enter overseas markets or international brands that want to raise their visibility in China, Chadwick said. “There’s an apparent vibrancy to her that brands seeking to inject some sunshine into their offers may be keen to associate with,” he added, pointing to likely interest from “big mobile brands” and “digital platforms.”

But Raducanu may first have to catch up to Osaka, who has a “head start” given her successive grand slam victories, Chadwick said.

“Osaka’s brand has been infused with all manner of distinctive characteristics from campaigning on [Black Lives Matter] to carrying the Olympic torch in Tokyo,” he added. “Raducanu faces the challenge of not only matching Osaka’s playing success but also the need for her brand to embody a set of values and represent something.”

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