The ATP Dubai tournament is being played this week. A tournament with a distinctive feature : the event, also called the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, is sponsored by the duty-free shops of the city’s airport, one of the largest in the world. A good opportunity to look back on the relationship, sometimes a little strange, between the sport and its commercial partners.
1/ « The other players laugh at me »
Far from Maria Sharapova, some professional tennis players have trouble catching the attention of sponsors. And are therefore ready to do quite a few things to get there. Like the Spaniard Nuria Llagostera (best WTA ranking : 35th), who made a name for herself back in May 2008 by posing naked over tennis balls in the magazine Interviù. « Just to show myself a bit and to see if some company decides to bet on me by offering me a contract, she justified herself. The other players will laugh at me but the most important thing is to feel comfortable with yourself. » Obviously.
2/ « Maybe I’m not blonde enough »
A distinctive two-handed forehand, a doctor-coach father who’s never held a racquet in his life and an impulsive personality : Marion Bartoli liked to make herself stand out. Now retired, the Frenchwoman has for quite some time complained about a lack of recognition. In 2010, after a win in the second round at the Australian Open, she tried to find an explanation during a press conference. « Why ? I don’t know. I'm probably not blonde enough, not tall enough, and not thin enough. This is the sponsors’ strategy, they give out 15 million dollars sponsoring to Sharapova who lost in Wimbledon against Dulko, at the US Open against Oudin and at the Australian Open against Kirilenko. But this is not my business, she taunts, looking for a sponsor. I’m the world number eleven but I go to buy my shoes and outfits at the store like everyone else. When I’m back home, in Switzerland, everyone’s a bit surprised. But that’s the way it is. » And that’s it.
3/ Tobacco, Unesco and legal proceedings
The Basel tournament has one particularity, as it is the last tennis tournament in the world to have been sponsored by a tobacco brand. Its sponsor ? The Swiss cigar brand Davidoff. A type of sponsorship forbidden by the European Union, and which brought the Davidoff Swiss Indoors a bit of a hassle : in 2008, the TV channel Eurosport withdrew from the event ; A year later, Unesco cancelled a donation. If many legal proceedings are still ongoing, the sponsor has disappeared from the naming since 2010.
4/ The first sponsor in the history of Roland Garros
Sometimes, a historical partnership between a tournament and its sponsor can start with not much. In 1888, the famous tire brand Dunlop is the first brand to appear at Roland-Garros. The reason ? When the stands of the central court were set up and as a huge board was installed to counter the shade of the trees on the clay, the company offered to finance it, becoming the first partner to have it’s name shown on the Central court. More than a century later, Dunlop is still present on the different boards on the sides of the court, and the official ball of the tournament bears its name. In 1972, Roland-Garros, a bit broke, even changed it’s name for that year, renaming itself the Vanaos French Open, in honor of its sponsor, specialized in beauty products. Because it’s worth it ?
5/ « I think it’s a bit strange »
Last January, as the Australian Open begins in a huge media storm with the fixed-matches revelations, Andy Murray underlines the hypocrisy, according to him, reigning in tennis between sponsorship and betting websites. Since this year, the tournament has established a partnership with a British bookmaker. « I don’t believe the players are allowed to be sponsored by betting companies but then the tournaments are. I don’t really understand how it all works. I think it’s a bit strange », he explains then.