What the 18-year-old Brit’s U.S. Open win made clear is that we’re seeing one of those athletes who transcend their sport.
Regular tennis fans got an introduction to 18-year-old Emma Raducanu’s power and personality during her impressive run at Wimbledon this year.
But it was her victory at the U.S. Open last Saturday that turned the Toronto-born Brit into one of those athletes who transcends their sport — who you can’t help but watch and want to know more or even pick up a racquet. Get ready for Emma Raducanu, Inc.
How big is this win?
I ask Michel Masquelier, former Chairman of IMG Media, part of the global sports management giant. “It’s as good as it gets,” he says.
“Tennis is a genuinely international sport, but it’s also an individual sport so any individual who shines on that stage is instantly recognisable. You see the face of the athlete more than in football, Formula 1, or golf.”
Alongside her championship title, Raducanu has other force multipliers for propelling celebrity and commercial success. There’s her international reputation: Born to a Chinese mother and a Romanian father, she was raised in Britain and shot to fame in the U.S. There’s her youth and the enormity of the records she’s broken: She’s the first player, male or female, ever to win a grand slam from the qualifying rounds. She did it without breaking a set.
Then there was the spectacular finals performance; the parents who couldn’t be there; the side-story of a former British star-turned-commentator, Tim Henman, whose support spurred her on. And don’t forget her spontaneous likability, the attitude that says “bring it on.”
All of this makes Emma Raducanu a rarity even in elite sport — a unicorn. These figures are different not just because they dominate their sport, but because they alter the landscape around them. But as unicorns in the tech world know, that’s no easy ride. Potential that huge, growth that fast, and adulation that fervent can be tricky to sustain and manage.
It’s hard to overstate the impact she’s had in Britain, a country with a fierce sporting culture that craves and cradles a champion. Amazon Prime had the licensing rights to the U.S. Open, but Channel 4 (state-owned, but largely commercially funded) rushed to secure last-minute sub-licensing rights from Prime Video late on Friday night, giving it a whopping 9.2 million viewers for the match. That was 48% of the country’s 16 to 34-year-olds watching TV.
With global sponsorship spending estimated at around $65.8 billion a year, apparel sales, TV deals and more, the monetization opportunities will be enormous, particularly if Raducanu fulfils her promise in attracting more viewers and players to the world of women’s tennis. This is a huge opportunity for the Women’s Tennis Association.
“In 35 years in the industry, I would have to go back to the days of Tiger Woods to think of something similar,” says Masquelier, who has just published a motivational book based on his experiences. Woods was also a unicorn, not just because of his sublime golf strokes but because his poise, personality and multi-ethnic background brought new audiences, sponsorship and players into golf.
Already, it’s hard to imagine the women’s tour without Raducanu.
The season-ending WTA finals take place in Guadalajara, Mexico in November. Only the top eight players in the world qualify. Raducanu is now ranked 23rd (a rise of 127 places from a few weeks back). If she doesn’t manage to work her way into the top eight, how much attention will it attract? How many non-tennis fans will tune in? – Reuters.