Business of Sport
Li Na cashing in on success
Beijing - Reigning French Open tennis champion, Li Na, is on course to become the richest woman in sport, as companies fight to cash in on her enormous popularity in China.
The 29 year-old has played just four matches since her victory at Roland Garros in June – when she became the first Chinese tennis player to win a grand slam.
However, this year she has signed over R280m in sponsorship deals with global brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Rolex and Haagen-Dazs.
Currently, Li is second behind Maria Sharapova, but if Li’s form continues at major events they could soon swap positions thanks to Na’s following in the Chinese market.
Li and Sharapova are both scheduled to play in Toronto next week during the Rogers AT&T Cup.
An estimated 120 million Chinese people watched the French Open final on television.
Terry Rhoads, the former head of sports marketing at Nike, gave Li her first sponsorship deal in 1998.
Rhoads said: “Two years ago, she could not buy a sponsor. Now she is the only person with a Nike deal who is allowed to wear patches from other sponsors on her clothes.”
“They told Nike: 'If you blink, there are a host of Chinese sports brands ready to pay big money’.”
“You have a lot of people searching for someone who has credibility, who can make the needle move and make Chinese stop and think. And Li Na has separated herself from the pack. She speaks English, she has a great personality, and she's a world champion in a sport that China has traditionally not dominated.”