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Just in time for the holidays, Canadian tennis star Genie Bouchard finally came to terms with her new representation, industry giant IMG/WME.
So, despite the fact that she’s still searching for a new coach after parting ways with Nick Saviano, at least the country’s top female tennis player now has her off-court business well in hand.
“Genie’s unique combination of talent, mental fortitude, and charisma make her the type of athlete who transcends sport; and the unparalleled opportunities and partnerships across WME-IMG in areas including tennis, marketing and modelling will help ensure she reaches a new level of global success,” the company’s statement read. “We look forward to working with her to achieve her goals both on and off the court.”
An additional component to the association is that the 20-year-old is also now on the roster of the agency’s modelling arm, IMG Models Worldwide.
Looking after her interests will be Los-Angeles based Jill Smoller, the former player and longtime agent of world No. 1 Serena Williams. (She also represents the retired Andy Roddick). Also on Bouchard detail will be Brad Slater, whose roster of clients has included, among others, UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, actors Kevin Costner and Forest Whitaker, and former NFL stars Michael Strahan, Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher.
Here’s the official press-release quote from Bouchard:
“I am really excited about joining WME/IMG, a company that is in the best possible position to help me achieve my business goals and maximize the value of my brand. I have a great team around me and can’t wait to get started.”
We’ve never actually heard Bouchard use the word “brand”, about herself, or anything else for that matter. But it’s a whole new world now.
The Canadian has essentially not had any official representation since shortly after her high-profile finals appearance at Wimbledon in early July, when a letter was sent to longtime agency Lagardère instructing them to cease negotiating any potential new sponsorship deals on her behalf.
Her contract with Lagardère officially expired Oct. 7.
In Singapore two weeks later, Eh Game was told that the deal with IMG was with the lawyers, at the fine-print stage. But it took another seven weeks for everything to be finalized.
According to Sports Business Journal, two advantages IMG offered as it wooed Bouchard away from Lagardère were a lower commission rate on endorsements (less than 10 per cent), and a formal (presumably well-remunerated) role for mother Julie, something that wasn’t part of her previous arrangement.
Mary Jane Orman, IMG Tennis's vice-president of communications, tells Eh Game that both of those statements are inaccurate.
IMG/WME (the second acronym is William Morris Endeavour, the Hollywood talent agency that swallowed up IMG nearly a year ago) will have to hit the ground running, even as everything slows down with the impending holiday season.
First on the agenda should be to help her find a new coach for 2015. Because her on-court results are the fuel that drives the Bouchard brand engine.
Bouchard’s contract with Nike is about to expire. It was probably a good deal for them, given the Canadian's subsequent rapid rise. Nike didn’t have to outbid adidas at the beginning of 2012, months before she won the Wimbledon juniors. Budget cuts meant adidas wasn’t going to re-sign her, even though she was the No. 3 junior in the world at the beginning of that season.
While it’s unlikely the sporting giant is prepared to lose her, most companies have already long set out their sponsorship budgets for 2015. At this late date (assuming her agents-in-waiting haven’t already been working on this pre-emptively), it’s going to be more challenging to engineer a bidding war for her services to drive the price up, never mind get the dollars they feel Bouchard deserves.
There were options. For example, two newer entries into the tennis apparel racket – Uniqlo (which has Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori) and H&M (which has Tomas Berdych) – both are seeking a female player to add to their stables.
Earlier this year, Eh Game was told that Nike offered Bouchard a new deal before the Australian Open – before her first major Grand Slam semi-final appearance – in the neighbourhood of $1.5 million US a year for multiple years. That's a lot more than she was getting, and a knowledgeable tennis source told Eh Game that it would have kicked in immediately at that increased rate, not tacked on to the expiration of the current deal.
Bouchard turned it down, the source said – confident that given where she was planning to be, she would quickly outgrow it. Later, we heard that offer was greatly increased – perhaps as much as doubled, for a five-year period – and that also was turned down by the Bouchard camp.
These are big dollars to spurn, although nowhere near what Sharapova (eight years and a reported $70 million, signed in 2010), Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (10 years, up to a possible $100 million each) are getting during a period where Nike's tennis business isn't exactly at peak profitability.
Bouchard’s star dimmed a little bit in the second half of 2014, although it’s unlikely her on-court struggles in the last few months will have much impact on her long-term earning potential – on her “brand”, as it were.
The lack of representation had to hurt, though. Since that Wimbledon final five months ago – imagine if she’d actually won it – not a single new deal has been announced. The three-year deal with Coke and Diet Coke in Canada happened prior to that high-profile moment. It was time to strike while the iron was hot and, because of the circumstances, it didn't happen.
The power of IMG is unquestioned. But at least on the tennis side, Bouchard isn’t near the top of the pecking order. They have Sharapova and the recently-retired Li Na – both handled by IMG’s top tennis gun, Max Eisenbud, who also has American Madison Keys. They have Williams. IMG also signed two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova this summer although the Czech’s earning potential obviously isn’t anywhere close to what Bouchard’s will be.
As well, Smoller’s priority will be Williams – at least as long as the world No. 1 is still playing, and she shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Not that Smoller isn’t more than capable of adding another player to her roster. But Williams is more than just a client to Smoller; she’s family. When the two players meet on court, there’s not much question whose players’ box Smoller will be sitting in. Williams is "Auntie S" to her children.
At Nike, Bouchard is also down the list – behind Federer and Nadal, and Sharapova and Williams. With these worldwide icons, multiple Grand Slam Champions all, sporting the iconic swoosh, Bouchard is on the second team.
With a smaller clothing concern, Bouchard would be the exclusive focus, the only woman wearing their clothes and representing the brand. With Nike, she has been been wearing the Maria Sharapova line the last couple of years, which is fine except for the fact that it’s … Maria Sharapova’s line.
A similar dynamic will be at play with her agency. Say, for example, she had gone with Team 8 Global, the new boutique agency started by longtime Federer agent Tony Godsick which, so far, represents Federer, Juan Martin del Potro and Grigor Dimitrov. They reportedly courted Bouchard, and she would have been their sole focus on the women’s side.
In the short term, Bouchard won’t be getting the top-tier attention at IMG that Team Bouchard believes she deserves. But that can change quickly. A few years down the road, when many of those current stars have retired and Bouchard is just entering her prime, as her accomplishments on the tennis court start to mount up, it could well be a very different story.
In the meantime, IMG Models’s website this morning is proud of the 15 women from its stable who took part in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show last night. We suspect that’s not a future assignment for the world’s No. 8 tennis player. But certainly there will be many appearances in the pages of the leading fashion magazines to look forward to.
In that sense, Bouchard once again follows in the footsteps of the last Canadian woman to reach the top 10 on the WTA Tour, Carling Bassett-Seguso, who back in the day was with the Ford modelling agency.
With those new Hollywood connections, all you can hope is that Bouchard won’t make a movie like Spring Fever, as Bassett-Seguso did back in the 1980s.
One thing is certain; she will make a lot more money than Bassett-Seguso ever did.