Chinese tennis star to trigger brand interest after first Grand Slam

Grand Slam: Li Na won the French Open women's final at Roland Garros
Grand Slam: Li Na won the French Open women's final at Roland Garros

Li Na, China's new tennis star, has the potential to become a "global superstar" and will have brands queuing up to sponsor her, claim sponsorship experts.

Sport sponsorship experts believe the 29-year-old Na – who became the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam singles title when she defeated defending champion Francesca Schiavone in the French Open final this weekend – could become the highest-earning sportswoman of all time.

The match was watched by tens of millions of fans on TV back in China – and now it is expected that brands will battle it out to get her to endorse their products, as they seek exposure in a market which has proved difficult for big brands to crack.

Na already has deals with Nike, Rolex and Hagen-Dazs.    

Experts believe that sport, lifestyle, and clothing brands will be among those wanting to join this list.

According to unofficial overnight figures, the match – screened at 1.45pm on Saturday on BBC2 – was watched by 800,000 viewers, 8.7% of the available audience, in the UK.

However, this is small beer compared to the tens of millions which are thought to have watched the final in China, and crucial to her success will be the fact that China’s all-important state media has embraced her success.

Nigel Currie, director of sports marketing and sponsorship agency, brandRapport, said: "Li Na’s recent successes in reaching the final of the Australian Open and winning the French Open could make her the highest-paid sportswoman of all time. For a start, she plays in an individual sport as opposed to a team sport, and tennis is one of the truly global sports where the women’s game is given equal billing to the men’s game.

"There have been very few Chinese athletes who have achieved what she has in the last few months and right now she is highly marketable."

Steve Martin, chief executive of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, agreed, saying that "she has the potential to be a global superstar" . He pointed to her relative young age and ability to speak English, as key to her appeal for sponsors.

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