Roger Federer is widely perceived as the greatest tennis player ever. He holds the records for most singles Grand Slam wins (17) and weeks ranked No. 1 in the world (302). He appeared in a staggering 18 out of 19 Grand Slam finals between 2005 and 2010.
Federer’s supremacy on the court extends off of it as well, as he has racked up an endorsement portfolio that is unmatched in sports when it comes to the number and quality of sponsors, as well as the length of deals. The agreements helped the 31-year-old Federer earn $71.5 million over the last 12 months, including prize money and appearance fees.
Federer’s decade of dominance in tennis started in 2003 when he won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon by beating Mark Philippousis in the final. He had apparel (Nike) and racket (Wilson) deals at the time and not much else. The sponsors started coming the following year with a watch deal with Maurice Lacroix (later replaced by Rolex). Gillette came aboard in 2007, followed by coffee machine maker Jura, Mercedes and Credit Suisse. Other current partners include Lindt chocolates and National Suisse.
Many of his deals cover 10 years, which is a huge commitment by companies in an era of athletes embarrassing their sponsors by ending up in the tabloids or police blotter. Collectively his 10 sponsors pay him an estimated $45 million annually. His 10-year Nike contract is the biggest in history of the sport worth more than $10 million a year.
Federer and his long-time agent, Tony Godsick, left IMG together last year, but it has not slowed down the deal flow for the pair. Federer inked a five-year deal with Moet & Chandon at the end of 2012 that is expected to pay at least $6 million annually.
Tennis as a sport is wildly attractive to sponsors for several reasons. The demographics of its fans are strong thanks to high disposable incomes to be spent on tennis apparel, rackets, watches and cars. In addition, the tennis season is almost year-round, keeping Federer in the spotlight.
Federer is as bankable as they come. He has never a faced major injury that sidelined him for months, like many elite players, and over the past decade, he has reached at least the semi-finals in the vast majority of tournaments, which keeps him in front of TV viewers and in the press.
Another plus for tennis is the global nature of the sport, so Nike and Gillette can utilize him in advertising in Asia, Europe and the U.S. This is not the case with baseball and football stars, who are largely limited to the U.S. Market research by Repucom found that Federer’s global influence is on par with soccer icons David Beckham and Lionel Messi as well as Michael Jordan.
Repucom’s Celebrity DBI survey found Federer’s awareness levels at only 61% in the U.S. But in Europe, they are over 90% in France, Spain and the U.K. He ranks off the charts for the aspiration attribute. Federer’s appeal levels are strong as well. He has been voted by fans as the favourite player on the ATP Tour 10 straight years.
Federer’s income surged after a barnstorming exhibition tour of South America in December that netted him $14 million for six matches in three cities. It was his first visit to South America as a professional, and Federer received a hero’s welcome and further elevated his stature on the continent, which will hold its first Summer Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Federer has won a record $77 million in career prize money—$23 million more than any other player—since he turned pro in 1998. He picked up $6.5 million over the last 12 months for total earnings of $71.5 million, including exhibitions, appearance fees and endorsements.
Most elite athletes leave the governing of their sport to the rank-and-file players, but not Federer. The Swiss star has taken his negotiating talents to the boardroom acting as the president of the ATP Tour Player Council since 2008. He has successfully lobbied for significant prize money increases at the four Grand Slam events without resorting to boycotts or other disruptive events. Much of the money will be steered towards early round losers. Wimbledon announced a 40% increase in April to its 2013 purse and will pay out $34.6 million. The U.S. Open boosted its pay 31% to $33.6 million and committed to $50 million in prize money by 2017.
Federer is now taking social media by storm. He joined Twitter two weeks ago and quickly picked up 300,000 followers. He hosted his first Redddit “Ask Me Anything” shortly after. The next stop for Federer could be the Forbes billionaires list.