Many of tennis’ biggest stars are skipping this year’s U.S. Open. After all, why risk Covid when you are making millions off the court?
When the U.S. Open starts Monday, more than 300 of the world’s best tennis players will be competing for the chance to win $44 million in prize money, including $3 million each for the male and female singles champions.
For most of them, it could be the difference between a money-losing year and a profitable one. The pandemic has hit tennis especially hard. It’s a global sport that requires a lot of international travel. And financially, tennis players are essentially independent contractors, with no team to fall back on in tough times. In response, the sport has established a Player Relief Fund to distribute more than $6 million to help 800 struggling pros deal with the absence of prize money.
But the very top players have none of these concerns. Consider Roger Federer. The 39-year-oldSwiss tennis ace, who isn’t competing in the 2020 Open as he recovers from a pair of knee surgeries, once again lands at No. 1 on the Forbes ranking of the highest-paid tennis players with pretax earnings of $106.3 million between June 2019 and June 2020. Not only is Federer—for the 15th straight year—the world’s highest-earning tennis player, but he is also the top-earning athlete on the planet – despite playing in only ten ATP tournaments during our scoring period and winning two of them.
“Top tennis players typically have enormous longevity, and longevity is helpful in establishing and growing brand value,” says Phil de Picciotto, founder and president of Stamford, Connecticut-basedsports agency Octagon. “They are also the best in the world at what they do on a very quantifiable basis, and people like the best.”
Most tennis endorsement contracts are built on low guarantees with bonuses for tournament performances and world rankings. A Grand Slam win can trigger a seven-figure bonus. In contrast, there are reductions when players don’t meet minimum play requirements, due to injury — or a pandemic. But the biggest stars lock in huge guarantees and are largely immune to the reductions.
Federer earned more than 95% of his income off the court this year. The 20-time Slam champ split from sneaker giant Nike in 2018 and signed a ten-year deal with Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo. The deal clincher: Uniqlo promised $300 million whether he was playing tennis or not.
“We feel the greatest impact of Roger Federer is yet to come,” Uniqlo’s head of global creative John Jay told Forbes in May. “Of course, it will be fueled by his status as the greatest of all time, but Roger’s ability to bring positive change to the world is his future and ours.”
Novak Djokovic, No. 2 on the list, earned $44.6 million, 72% of it from endorsements and appearance fees. Djokovic, the top-ranked men’s player, contracted Covid-19 in June but plans to play in New York next week.No. 3 Rafael Nadal won’t, citing Covid concerns. Nadal earned $40 million, 65% off the court. In all, the top ten players pocketed a combined $340 million, up from $312 million last year.
Tennis represents an appealing demographic in general for marketers, thanks to a well-heeledaudience that is evenly split between men and women—a rarity in big-time sports. At the 2019 U.S. Open, 78% of fansheld at least a bachelor’s degree, and the average household income was $216,000.
Women represent 40% of the earners on our list, led by Japan’s Naomi Osaka (No. 4, $37.4 million) and Serena Williams (No. 5, $36 million). Both are competing in the U.S. Open, but the other two top-earning athletes on the women’s side—Ashleigh Barty (No. 7, $13.1 million) and Simona Halep (No. 10, $10.9 million)—are skipping the event.
Despite playing only eight tournaments in 2019, Williams remains the most famous female athlete in the U.S., with a public awareness that tops Tom Brady, LeBron James and every other athlete not named Tiger Woods, according to Q Scores, which tracks consumer sentiment toward celebrities. Cashing in on her broad appeal—from Gen-Z to Baby Boomers; blue-collar to college educated—are sponsors like Nike, Gatorade, Procter & Gamble and Beats.
1. Roger Federer -Switzerland
Total Earnings: $106.3 Million
Sponsors will continue to line Federer’s pockets while he is sidelined, but he will miss out on lucrative exhibitions, where fans pay top dollar to see Fed in spots he doesn’t usually play. He did a five-stop swing through Latin America in November that added more than $15 million to his bank account.
2. Novak Djokovic -Serbia
Total Earnings: $44.6 Million
Djokovic is the overwhelming favorite to win the U.S. Open with Nadal and Federer staying at home with their combined 39 Grand Slam trophies. He has won five of the last seven Slam titles, and his $144 million in career prize money is the most all-time. Djokovic added Peugeot as an endorsement partner in 2020.
3. Rafael Nadal -Spain
Total Earnings: $40 Million
The Spaniard is one of the biggest draws in tennis and can command appearance fees of more than $1 million. Nadal is the greatest clay-court player of his generation and captured a pair of Grand Slams in 2019, including his 12th French Open title and fourth U.S. Open.
4. Naomi Osaka -Japan
Total Earnings: $37.4 Million
Osaka held dual Japanese and American citizenship growing up but wisely chose to represent Japan ahead of the Tokyo Summer Olympics, now scheduled for 2021. The decision made her an even hotter commodity for sponsors, like Procter & Gamble, All Nippon Airways and Nissin, all of which signed deals with Osaka to use her around marketing for the Games. Among tennis players, only Roger Federer made more than Osaka from endorsements.
5. Serena Williams -United States of America
Total Earnings: $36 Million
Williams has invested in more than 50 startups over the past six years through Serena Ventures. Her firm is focused on companies founded by women and minorities, accounting for 60% of the investments. She has made $93 million in career prize money, twice as much as any other female athlete.
6. Kei Nishikori -Japan
Total Earnings: $32.1 Million
Nishikori has been sidelined since the 2019 U.S. Open, first with an elbow injury and then by the coronavirus shutdown and will miss the Open after testing positive for Covid this month. The Japanese tennis ace was set to be one of the most prominent faces of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo before they were postponed. His endorsement partners include Asahi, NTT, Japan Airlines, Lixil, Procter & Gamble and Nissin, which are all official Olympics sponsors.
7. Ashleigh Barty- Australia
Total Earnings: $13.1 Million
Barty had a career year in 2019 with $11.3 in prize money, second-most ever on the WTA Tour behind only Serena’s $12.4 million in 2013(Barty’s $10.1 million in our ranking represents her winnings from June 2019 to June 2020). She won her first career Slam at the 2019 French Open, triggering lucrative bonuses from sponsors Fila and Head. She is the first Australian woman ranked No. 1 since Evonne Goolagong way back in 1976.
8. Daniil Medvedev- Russia
Total Earnings: $11.8 Millions
The Russian reached six straight ATP Tour finals in 2019, something only the Big Three (Federer, Djokovic, Nadal) and Andy Murray had done since 2000. Good timing for Lacoste, which added Medvedev to its roster earlier in 2019 and got major exposure with his deep runs in events. Medvedev landed endorsement deals with BMW, Russian finance brand Tinkoff and Bovet watches after he reached the U.S. Open final last September, when he lost to Nadal in five sets.
9. Dominic Thiem- Austria
Total Earnings: $11.1 Million
The 26-year-old Austrian reached the finals of the 2020 Australian Open and 2019 French Open but has yet to win his first Slam. Thiem is currently ranked No. 3 in the world and endorses Adidas, Babolat, Red Bull, Bank Austria, Rolex and Sky Sport.
10. Simona Halep- Romania
Total Earnings: 10.9 Million
Halep has won $36.5 million in career prize money, fourth all-time on the women’s side. The 28-year-old Romanian won her second career Slam title at Wimbledon last year. Her major sponsors include global brands Nike, Wilson, Hublot and Avon.
-Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff