Roger Federer retired on Thursday as one of the best tennis players ever. He won 20 Grand Slam titles, and was especially dominant between 2003 and 2007, when he won 10 Majors, including Wimbledon five times. His toughest rivals, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, recently surpassed Federer in the Grand Slam titles race — with 22 and 21, respectively — but there’s one area where Federer bests them: Earnings.
Federer made over $1 billion during his career — $130.6 million on the court, and over $870 million off it. As Forbes points out, he is one of only six athletes to ever make over $1 billion.
“I am 41 years old, I’ve played more than 1,500 matches over 24 years, and tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamt,” Federer said in his retirement announcement.
So why did Federer make so much more money than anyone else who has ever played tennis?
His success off the court was naturally an extension of his prowess on it. But marketing experts say it was about something more: It wasn’t that he was just a great player, it’s that he carried himself with a certain bearing and dignity that made him all the more appealing to brands.
“Roger is forever a gentleman,” said Mike Fahey, who heads a Boston-based marketing firm and is a lifelong tennis — and Federer — fan. “He doesn’t throw tantrums. Doesn’t hit ball people. Doesn’t abuse umpires. He’s the ultimate class act.”
That’s a view seconded by Angeline Close Scheinbaum, a sports marketing professor at Clemson University. She said Federer scores high on all the key marketing yardsticks — namely, trustworthiness, expertise, credibility and attractiveness.
“He’s a sports marketer’s dream,” said Scheinbaum, who recalled once meeting Federer and asking him to autograph her purse. “He signed it with a Sharpie and said, ‘I’m so sorry for ruining your purse!’ I thought, “Either this is the most humble man in the sports world or he’s just hilarious and witty.’”
Over a dozen brands affiliated themselves with Federer, who is from Switzerland, during the past roughly two decades, most notably Nike NKE, 1.20%, Rolex, Mercedes-Benz DMLRY and Wilson Sporting Goods.
He had a 20-year deal with Nike for shoes and clothes that reportedly paid him $10 million a year.
Federer left that deal in 2018 and signed a $300 million, 10-year clothing deal with Uniqlo. Soon after, he also bought a 3% stake in the Swiss company On Running ONON, -0.17%. The company went public after Federer’s investment.
A turning point in his marketing mastery occurred about 10 years ago. “Federer took greater control of his career off the court when he left sports agency giant IMG in 2012 and launched TEAM8 with his longtime agent Tony Godsick. His earnings have soared since,” as Kurt Badenhausen points out.
Another reason Federer has earned so much during his career? His longevity is appealing to marketers, says Rob Farinella, founder and CEO of Blue Sky Agency, an ad agency that has worked extensively in the sports world.
“He’s not only one of the best players the sports world has ever seen, but his career has spanned generations of people,” Farinella said. “This all has led to a major magnifying effect for him and his overall appeal and recognition.”