How Tennis Star Serena Williams Altered Brands' Perspectives on Female Athletes

How Tennis Star Serena Williams Altered Brands' Perspectives on Female Athletes

Serena Williams concluded her illustrious 27-year tennis career, reaching the third round of the 2022 US Open. Despite retiring from professional tennis, the player with the most Grand Slam victories in the Open Era continues to inspire brands to pay more attention to female athletes.

In a Friday night match against Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia, ranked 46th in the world, Serena lost in three sets at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York. This defeat, a day after she and her sister Venus were eliminated in the first round of the US Open doubles, marked the end of Serena's tennis journey.

However, the Williams sisters ushered in a new era, securing increased sponsorships for female athletes from advertising companies. Jeff Kearney, head of Gatorade's sports marketing, stated that Serena's impact has had a long-term effect on the advertising budgets of many global companies. Her most significant success was convincing Pepsico Inc., the first company to collaborate with Williams in 2009, to allocate more funds for female athletes.

Kearney mentioned, "Brands and companies collaborating with Serena are investing more in the activities of female athletes."

The tennis icon has worked with several renowned brands, starting with a $13 million, five-year sponsorship deal with Puma at the beginning of her career. She continued collaborations with Nike in 2003, serving as an inspiration for many fashion designers. Additionally, she received sponsorships from well-known brands such as Delta Air Lines and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Tanya Hvizdak, Nike's Global Vice President of Women's Sports Marketing, emphasized Serena's ability to transcend athletic boundaries. "What's important is that Serena transcends boundaries in sports. That helps her have a foundation. Her activities in different fields—with different aspects, whether as a mother, a champion, an inspiration for designers, or in any capacity—are all legacies."

Female athletes have long struggled for fair compensation and support. Disparities in salary persist in sports like golf, basketball, and women's tennis.

Nike, in response to accusations of mistreatment of pregnant track and field athlete Allyson Felix, changed its pay policy for pregnant athletes. In March, the company established a new policy research organization, including Williams and 12 other female athletes.

Serena Williams is also developing a venture capital fund focusing on business and support for female athletes post-retirement. "I hope that, with my modest contribution, female athletes can give their all on the playing field," she stated in Vogue magazine.

Recently, Williams appeared in Super Bowl advertisements for the beer brand Michelob Ultra alongside WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike and World Cup champion Alex Morgan, sponsored by Anheuser-Busch InBev SA.

Ricardo Marques, the company's Vice President of Marketing, acknowledged Williams's role in boosting spending on female athletes. Last year, Michelob committed $100 million over five years to promote women's sports, aiming to create gender equality between male and female athletes.

Marques shared, "Serena is a catalyst. She has instilled confidence for brands like ours to move forward and commit to more explicit support."

Support from companies, aligned with Williams and other athletes, has redirected inequalities in tennis. Both Williams sisters faced racial discrimination, double standards, and unfair treatment throughout their careers, influencing the brands they collaborated with. After Serena's dispute over the catsuit she wore at the 2018 French Open, Nike tweeted its support for her.

Hvizdak noted, "The support during those times is a crucial key. We supported not only that female athlete, but we supported the rights and opportunities of women in that aspect." She added that the catsuit supported Williams both in design and function, providing compression capabilities to help prevent blood clots. Nike emphasized its commitment to collaborating with Williams to deliver the most practical products for female athletes.

Even though Williams has "put down the racket," brands will always consider her first for advertising campaigns related to female athletes, Kearney affirmed.

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