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Breaking down the Australian Open’s Men’s Draw According to Sponsorship Agreements

Much has been made of the lopsidedness of the men’s draw for the 2015 Australian Open. The top half is anchored by Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori, seeds 1, 4 and 5, respectively. The bottom half includes Roger Federer , Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray, and Tomas Berdych. Commentators, including Kevin Mitchell over at The Guardian, have noted that Murray may have the most difficult quarter of all. The leading seeds in the top half count 8 grad slam titles between them while the seeds in the bottom half have 33. Quite a difference, indeed!

Less noted has been the market capitalization of each side of the draw represented in players’ sponsorship agreements. Federer is consistently ranked by Forbes as the single most marketed athlete in the world. (He upstaged Tiger Woods after Woods’ recreational and marriage-destroying engagement in extramarital sex and sleeping pills was revealed). An individual who not only represents but himself is a nodal point of global capital, how fitting is it that Federer hails from Switzerland, land of frictionless circulation? Wawrinka does too of course, but while Federer counts investment bank Credit Suisse among his sponsors, Wawrika’s Yonex outfit is emblazoned with a lonely “Fromm” patch; Fromm is a Swiss shipping and logistics company, and hardly on the level of Federer’s Swiss commodity package, which includes Rolex and Lindt, as well as other European luminaries like Moet & Chandon and Mercedes.

(Under Armour sponsors number 6 seed, Andy Murray)

And we can’t neglect third seed Nadal who is the global brand advisor for KIA motors, the main sponsor of the Australian Open. Despite the fact that tennis, unlike American Football, is little concerned with temporal manipulation and clock-oriented strategy, successful tennis players endorse watches. Nadal is one of the few to wear his on court. He sports a $650,000 Richard Mille, some distance from Murray’s modest Rado relationship or even Federer’s $70,000 Rolex. Both Federer and Nadal are Nike-draped, and, along with Addidas, it is Nike that dominates tennis apparel. Nadal recently signed a deal with Tommy Hilfinger to sponsor their causal wear off-court, replacing his old Armani underwear contract.

(Nike sponsors 2nd and 3rd seeds, Federer and Nadal)

The top half’s Djokovic has the more creative branding repertoire, however. He wears hipster Uniqlo on the court. The Japanese retailer is not a publically traded company and is new to tennis sponsorship; one cannot buy Dkojovic’s wear nor can one track Uniqlo’s profit reports by quarter. When he drives, it’s in a Peugeot and when he checks the time, it’s with Seiko. But the bottom half contains some unusual sponsorship agreements, too. Tomas Berdych, long noted for his ability not to win when the pressure is on (semi-finals and finals in particular, maybe this changes under his new coach, Dani Vallverdu?), has, for the past year, worn H&M on the court.

So, what does the first week of the Australian Open look like according to sponsorship agreements? It’s hard to say. The action clearly seems oriented toward the bottom of the draw, but tennis is nothing if not a game of surprises. Last year’s US Open final reminded us of that! This draw also tells us something else: we should all be investing in athletic apparel companies. From Berdych and Murray’s boutique athletic look, to Nadal and Federer’s global presence, when we watch tennis, we watch these companies’ value in motion, as capital and calisthenics seamlessly blend together. If you’re not courtside, surely you can have these companies in your portfolio.

Tomorrow: predicting draw upsets and market volatility.