Eugenie Bouchard: Courting the golden girl of tennis
- 29 January 2014
- From the section Business
She may not have won a major tournament yet, but emerging tennis star Eugenie Bouchard is being tipped as the next marketing face of the women's game.
After an Australian Open in which the 19-year-old Canadian unexpectedly reached the semi-final, there is as much debate about her career off the court as on it.
Her appearance and composure, not to forget tennis talent, have seen her touted as the next Maria Sharapova, the world's highest-paid female athlete, and four times Grand Slam winner.
The teenager's agent, Sam Duvall, says the player known as "Genie" has the personality, game and looks to surpass the Russian's commercial success.
And the global boss of the women's tennis circuit agrees about the financial potential.
"She is an incredibly talented athlete, and a very marketable brand ambassador for any company that wants to get involved with her," Stacey Allaster, chief executive of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), tells the BBC business website.
"I do believe that with her winning form and continued success that many brands will look to Genie for partnerships."
At present Bouchard has only a handful of brand associations, mostly tennis equipment-related, albeit of a high-profile nature.
Last year Nike asked Maria Sharapova which other WTA player she wanted to wear the clothing line she had designed for the firm, and the Russian chose Genie.
Ms Allaster says her fellow Canadian's attributes - "gracious, humble, confident, smart and funny, she is the whole package" - make Bouchard an ideal fit for partnerships in marketing "categories that play well for our athletes" such as:
- financial services
- consumer packaged goods
Bouchard shot up from 31st spot to enter the top 20 in the WTA rankings for the first time this week, in 19th place. This time a year ago she was ranked 137th.
"One of the exciting things of my job is to see the juxtaposition between established stars such as Serena [Williams], Maria [Sharapova], Li Na, and the rising stars such as Genie, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Taylor Townsend - without question they will be the future faces of the WTA," says Ms Allaster.
"It is nice to see her stepping forward on the Grand Slam stage, where we have the most fan interest and maximum media exposure, with both groups now set to follow Genie on to future events."
One of the features of the Australian Open, was the self-styled Genie Army of Australian young, mostly male fans, who attended her games decked out in the red and white of Canada, and showered her with presents of cuddly toys.
During the Australian Open, Bouchard also added some 100,000 new "likes" to her Facebook page, taking that total to 243,000. In addition she has 107,000 followers on Twitter.
"Genie is giving something back, interacting with fans," says Allaster. "That is why she is going to be a massive success.
"And the Genie Army is going to continue throughout the rest of the year.
"It is great for women's tennis as a whole, because it is all about the fans - we are only in business because of the fans."
When she was 12, Bouchard was the recipient of the Stacey Allaster Tennis Scholarship, set up when the tennis administrator moved from Tennis Canada to the helm of WTA.
"I said to her then I wanted to see another Canadian on the tour, and even then at that young age she assured me that she was going to be be on it," Ms Allaster says.
She adds that when the WTA signed a new three-year partnership deal with Usana sporting supplements in October 2013, the firm asked for Bouchard to be one of the brand ambassadors, even before her breakthrough success in Australia.
One sports marketing expert believes more commercial opportunities will soon by spinning Bouchard's way.
"There is not a huge pool of female sporting talent in the world which is globally recognised," says Nigel Currie, of agency Brand Rapport.
"There is a big of a void in that area. Anyone who can get into the top two or three tennis players is of appeal."
He also believes Bouchard has the talent to back up the image, unlike 1990s icon Anna Kournikova, whose commercial deals and celebrity status were never matched by her winning a WTA singles title.
"I think things are different now, brands want to be associated with winning athletes, and there is no doubt that Bouchard has playing ability," says Mr Currie.
And according to WTA chairman and chief executive Ms Allaster, Bouchard also has one very important attribute for a modern sports star.
"She is very marketing-savvy."