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CiCi Bellis Not Likely To Draw Big Endorsements — Yet

Advertising Age, August 27, 2014

By E.J. Schultz

Here is what we know about CiCi Bellis, the 15-year-old who on Tuesday became the youngest player to win a U.S. Open match in 18 years: She is from northern California, shops at Urban Outfitters, listens to dance music before matches and used to like Justin Bieber when she was younger, which she defines as "a couple years ago."

And here is what brands need to know: She is an amateur, which makes it doubtful she will strike big endorsement deals anytime soon.

"I think I'm definitely going to stay an amateur right now to keep my options open for college, in case an injury or something happens. But I'd love to be a pro one day," she told reporters yesterday as she fielded questions on everything from Mr. Bieber, to the origins of her name (CiCi is short for Catherine Cartan) and what talk show she would like to appear on ("Ellen").

If she plays in college, she would be prohibited from collecting a paycheck for appearing in commercials or striking an endorsement deal, according to NCAA rules.

Even if she goes pro, Ms. Bellis might have to win a few more matches before marketers come calling, according to one expert. "Brands are looking for long-term success and sustained excellence," said Dan Jones, senior VP-sponsorship and event marketing for Intersport, a Chicago-based sports and entertainment marketing company. "This as of now is a flash in in the pan, a fantastic win [and] fantastic upset. But it's not going to warrant a lot of brands making serious inquiries until she can do it consistently."

He pointed to the example of Victoria Duval, who in 2013 at age 17 won attention at the U.S. Open after upsetting 2011 champion Samantha Stosur. "That win alone did not catapult Duval into a windfall of endorsements," Mr. Jones said.

Ms. Bellis, who is ranked 1,208th in the world, beat the tournament's 12th seed, Dominika Cibulkova, becoming the youngest player to win a U.S. Open match since Anna Kournikova in 1996.

Of course, Ms. Bellis will certainly get some marketer attention. Mr. Jones said she could draw interest from brands close to tennis, such as apparel makers. She was sporting Nike gear yesterday. "She is certainly now on the radar screen of tennis sponsors as one to watch," said Jim Andrews, senior VP-content strategy at sponsorship consultancy IEG. But "outside of apparel and equipment companies, most brands are likely to wait a little longer before making a serious approach to see if she can maintain her current high level of performance and whether she continues to demonstrate positive personality attributes," he added.

As for Ms. Bellis, money seems to be the last thing on her mind. When asked about the $60,000 she could have won yesterday if she was a pro, she said: "I don't really think about it. I mean, I try to just focus on, you know, the tennis rather than anything else."

She returns to the court on Thursday.