By Barry Janoff
December 20, 2015: The Year of Serena Williams and her calendar conquest of three of the four Grand Slams — plus the quest of other women tennis players to knock her off from her No. 1-ranked perch — turned into quite a boon for quite a number of marketing, media and the sport itself.
Foremost among them was Serena Williams, who finished 2014 by winning the U.S. Open then won the Australian, French and Wimbledon Slams in 2015, reaching the semi-finals of the U.S. Open and this year will taking in about $13 million from endorsements — not including income from investments in her own and other companies — and close to $12 million in winnings.
Also benefiting from Williams — recently named Sports Illustrated Athlete of the Year — were marketing partners, including Nike, Gatorade and Wilson; such investment partners as the Miami Dolphins, Mission AthleteCare and Home Shopping Network; ESPN, which in it's first year of start-to-finish coverage of the U.S. Open, saw TV, digital and other ratings go up across the board; and the Women's Tennis Assn., which named Williams its Player of the Year.
According to Steve Simon, WTA CEO, "The continued rise in audiences shows the WTA strategy to grow the product and reach more fans is working, and the number of stars coming up through the sport will continue to excite interest."
The governing organization for women's tennis saw interest in the sport rise on several of its platforms, including TV viewership, its Web site and digital.
The WTA said that its competitive season "boosted overall viewership by 25% year-on-year, with a record 395 million cumulative viewers in 2015 versus 316 million in 2014, when viewership rose by 23% versus 2013.
WTA coverage was seen by more TV viewers, with the number of households reached by WTA programming hitting 954.4 million in 2015, a 38% increase over 2014.
Digital viewership was up 44% year-on-year, with 44.6 million viewers watching women's tennis through online channels, compared to 31 million in 2014, according to WTA.
Regarding its Web presence in 2015, the number of unique users and visits to the official site were up 14% year-on-year and 15% year-on-year, respectively.
In addition, the number of fans following official WTA and player social media pages was up 16% year-on-year and reached 120 million cumulatively, while video views across official WTA Web site and social pages hit 48 million.
The five most-viewed WTA-sanctioned tournaments of the 2015 season were:
1. China Open, Beijing (34.64 million)
2. BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore (32.49 million)
3. Rogers Cup presented by National Bank, Toronto (29.7 million)
4. Miami Open presented by Itau (29.37 million)
5. BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells (26.81 million)
The WTA and tennis will reap more benefits from Serena in 2016 as she continues her quest to become the all-time leader in women's Grand Slam titles. She currently is third with 21, behind Margaret Court (24) and Setffi Graff (22). Williams will see to tie Graff at the Australian Open (Jan. 18-31), which will become must-see TV and a marketing boost.
Despite the presence of Serena Williams, the WTA said that the 21 Premier Tournaments and WTA Finals in Singapore were won by 12 different women in 2015, the same number as 2014.
"The depth of the playing field in our sport is unprecedented right now, and the competition is outstanding. We have the platform to continue growth in the future."
Entering 2016, the Top Ten WTA-ranked women tennis players are Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Maria Sharapova (who topped all women athletes in 2015 with some $23 million in endorsement deals), Agnieszka Radwanska, Petra Kvitova, Venus Williams, Flavia Pennetta, Lucie Safarova and Angelique Kerber.
Last December, the WTA signed a ten-year media agreement valued at more than $525 million with its incumbent multimedia rights partner, Perform, which both parities said would be the "largest live media rights and production venture in the history of the WTA and in women's sports."
As part of that deal, beginning in 2017, WTA Media will produce more than 2,000 singles matches a year and increase news content by 40%. According to WTA, "By increasing the amount of content available to fans, the WTA can expect the strong rise in media engagement reported in 2015 to continue to rise in the future."
"The depth of the playing field in our sport is unprecedented right now, and the competition is outstanding. We have the platform to continue growth in the future," said Simon.
WTA Media Deal Called "Biggest Ever" In Women's Sports
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