Serena and Venus Williams’ match this Saturday in the 2017 Australian Open final is not your average sibling rivalry – it is also a clash of two of the tennis world’s most lucrative brands.
For Venus, 36, the match in Melbourne marks an opportunity to score an upset victory in a long-running duel. This will be their 28th meeting, and the ninth in a major final. Serena, 35, is 6-2 in their head-to-head encounters and 16-11 overall. Overall, Serena has won 22 Grand Slam titles, compared to Venus’ seven.
Both athletes have proven they can make money, with $116 million in combined on-the-court winnings. But Serena’s edge on the court has also translated to an advantage as a businesswoman.
“Obviously winning comes first, and that’s why I think Serena is ahead of Venus. She’s the best female tennis player out there and keeps on winning,” Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert and creative director at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco, told FOX Business. “But [in] addition to their athleticism and talent, they’re smart. They sound intelligent on camera, they have charisma, they’re very educated and they’re excellent role models for young girls. All of that works together – they have performance, personality and purity.”
Individually, Serena has won $81.7 million on the court – more than twice the total winnings of her nearest competitor, Maria Sharapova, or any other female athlete on Earth. Venus Williams has racked up $34.4 million in career prize money.
Both have cultivated a massive audience on social media – a major benefit for companies looking to reach new consumers. As of Friday, Serena has more than 17.8 million followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, while Venus has more than 4.5 million.
The MVPIndex, an agency that ranks athletes based on social media, graded Serena as the 16th most valuable athlete in the United States in 2016, generating more than $22 million in equivalent value for her brands. That total also made her the most valuable player in women’s tennis.
“It’s hard to separate the Williams sisters’ performance on the court to what they do for business off the court,” said Kyle Nelson, co-founder of MVPIndex. “They have both enjoyed long careers and have had a lot of success – they are household names in America. They’ve been able to translate their success and popularity from tennis into the social realm with lucrative sponsorships, especially for Serena.”
Serena has amassed a personal net worth of $150 million, according to Forbes. She has endorsement deals in place with some of the most powerful companies in the world, including Nike, Wilson, Beats by Dre headphones, IBM and Delta Air Lines. A force in the fashion world, she designs and sells a personalized fashion line as part of an equity deal with the Home Shopping Network – the most recent edition debuted last September at New York Fashion Week. Sales figures for the line are not publicly available.
Forbes named Serena the highest-paid female athlete in the world in 2016, as she rang in $20 million in endorsement earnings that year. She has used her platform to become a powerful voice in the media, speaking out against sexism and social injustice.
"I think Serena has also been much more selective than many athletes who play individual sports, because she is so unique,” said Jonathan Jensen, a sports sponsorship expert and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “She is not only an incredible athlete and champion, but is outspoken and doesn't want to partner with brands who may not be comfortable with her speaking her mind and her activism.”
Together, Venus and Serena have utilized their wealth to invest in several brands. They purchased a small equity stake in the Miami Dolphins in 2009, becoming the first African-American women to own a portion of an NFL franchise. Last year, the sisters purchased ownership shares of Ultimate Fighting Championship, the burgeoning global mixed martial arts brand headed up by Dana White.
Venus’ personal brand may not be worth as much as that of her sister, but it is indeed formidable. Like Serena, she has a clothing line – EleVen, a collection of athletic apparel for women. She has collaborated with fashion powerhouses such as Ralph Lauren and Diane von Furstenberg. She also has a design company: V Starr Interiors, as well as endorsement deals with Wilson, Kraft, Tide and Ralph Lauren, according to Forbes.
“Over the past 20 years they have gone their own directions, established and carved out their own brands and they have very different personalities off of the court,” Jensen said. “Venus is an incredible champion in her own right, it just so happens that her sister is the sport's greatest champion."