Cori “Coco” Gauff enters a U.S. Open showdown with top-ranked Naomi Osaka on Saturday night on the verge of becoming the tennis world’s next superstar – and some major companies have already taken notice.
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Gauff, 15, became the youngest woman to reach the US Open’s third round since 1996 after ousting Timea Babos in a three-set thriller Thursday night. The surprise run came just months after Gauff topped one of her idols, tennis star Venus Williams, in straight sets at Wimbledon.
Gauff has already amassed more than $300,000 in prize money from pro events and far more from deals with a growing pool of sponsors. The Florida native is set to earn more than $1 million in 2019 through endorsement deals with New Balance, pasta maker Barilla and tennis racket maker Head, according to Forbes.
Success at an early age is just part of her appeal to companies, according to Bob Dorfman, a sports sponsorship expert and creative director at Baker Street Advertising.
“She’s extremely articulate and charismatic and comfortable on camera for somebody who’s that young, and it’s an age demographic that [marketers are] jumping on and want to find somebody who can be a role model and an icon,” Dorfman told FOX Business. “The potential for a long-term partnership is huge.”
While on-court success and major championships will define Gauff’s career, her off-court earning potential is massive. Tennis players held each of the top-10 spots on Forbes’ list of highest-earning female athletes in 2019. Serena Williams earned $25 million in endorsements alone, while U.S. Open rival Osaka took home $16 million in off-court deals and landed a new contract with Nike.
Gauff will be subject to the U.S. Tennis Association’s age-eligibility limits for the next several years, as rules prevent players younger than 18 from playing a full-pro schedule.
While offers from new brands are likely inevitable, the business side of sports can cut into crucial training time. On-court consistency – and tournament victories – are the key to long-term prominence as an endorser.
“When you’re this young and you’re still developing your game, you don’t want to spend too much time on the commercial side. It sort of takes away from becoming a better tennis player,” Dorfman said. “That’s always a difficult balance. Every sponsor you add is adding more time and more commitments and more attention that’s going to be taking away from working on her game.”
Gauff will face arguably the biggest test of her young career in Osaka, the defending U.S. Open champion. While an upset victory and deep run in this year’s tournament would draw new fans, a loss shouldn’t be seen as a setback, according to Dorfman.
“I don’t think it’s make-or-break for her, but it certainly would be a huge boost if she could win tomorrow. It seems like it’s the match of this event. There’s going to be a lot of eyes on her and even casual fans and non-tennis fans may be tuning in, so it’ll at least get her a lot more exposure,” he added.