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It's Andy Murray time! Just Ask His Sponsors...

The Big Issue, July 08, 2013

By Adam Forrest

Now that Andy Murray has defied history and Novak Djokovic to become Wimbledon champion, his management team will be pondering a new wave of commercial opportunities.

You doubt the power of sponsorship deals? Go back and watch last year’s US Open final in New York. On becoming Britain’s first male grand slam winner for 76 years, Murray dropped to his knees, removed his wristbands and discovered something vital was missing.

“I don’t have my watch… I don’t have it, I don’t have it,” he said, pointing to his wrist and looking up to his girlfriend, Kim Sears, for help. “Have you got my watch? I don’t have my watch,” he pleaded, before she helpfully pointed to another of his bags. Murray retrieved his £2,580 D-Star Automatic Chronograph just in time to show it off while lifting the trophy and meeting contractual obligations with sponsor Rado.

“Well, he’s a sports star, and that’s the kind of thing they do these days,” you might say. And you’d be right, of course. Yet there is nothing matter-of-fact about sponsorship deals. They are increasingly complex affairs involving long meetings to determine whether such-and-such a superstar is exactly ‘the right fit’.

Murray is thought to have made a seven-figure agreement with Rado last year, one of a handful of multi million-pound endorsement contracts (his five-year deal with Adidas is worth up to £15m, according to Forbes). A grand slam victory lifted the young Scot (still just 26) out of the celebrity rabble and into a very select group of people able to convey ‘success’ in an instant almost everywhere in the world – a very attractive quality for manufacturers of luxury goods.

Alan Ferguson, a director of sports marketing agency Fast Track, thinks the Rado contract could be worth “around a few million pounds” depending on future wins and titles, and estimates Murray’s US Open win has been worth an additional £6m to him. The Sun has speculated that his Wimbledon victory will see his potential earnings rocket to £100m.

“I don’t think Andy’s driven by these commercial elements, and he doesn’t want them to take up too much time. But he’s also showed himself to be very loyal to the companies he has been involved with. So it makes the few deals he does strike very lucrative. He’s certainly a very wealthy young man.”

But why watches? What makes the simple timepiece so prominent in the sponsorship game? Lesa Ukman, chief insights officer at global sponsorship consultancy IEG, says watches are second only to financial services in terms of marketing spend. The global market for watches is forecast to reach £20.5bn by the year 2015, despite the fact young and non-wealthy consumers rely on their mobile phones to tell the time.

Because no one really needs a watch any more, it makes the luxury end much more image-intense than ever“Because no one really needs a watch any more, it makes the luxury end much more image-intense than ever,” Ukman explains. “They need to sell a statement, so they really need the borrowed imagery to make that statement. With Andy Murray you’re buying someone who is successful but also loved – there is a large amount of goodwill connected with him. It’s critical to have the right associations.

“Sponsorship has got much more complex, and expectations are much, much higher. There is a huge risk there in choosing the right individual because you don’t know if they could end up like Lance [Armstrong] or end up shooting their girlfriend dead.

"But the research data you can get back letting you know if it’s working or not is far more robust now, so if something is not working it can be changed or amended.”

Back in 2006 Roger Federer signed a contract worth an estimated £10m to promote Rolex – still believed to be the biggest deal an athlete has ever signed with a watchmaker. But Ukman says actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s deal with luxury Swiss company Tag Heuer “is worth at least that and is probably bigger”.

DiCaprio’s involvement with Tag Heuer is intriguing on several levels. As brand ambassador, he has effectively become an employee, albeit an influential employee able to push the company into doing things that meet his approval (such as ensuring Tag’s buildings are partly powered by solar energy).

While neither party wants to make the commercial details clear, the actor is keen to stress the royalties are going to his beloved environmental initiatives, and his WWF donation of $1m (£650,000) is tied up with the Tag Heuer deal.

During the promotional push for The Great Gatsby, glossy Tag ads with DiCaprio brandishing his Swiss watch were everywhere. One press releases during DiCaprio’s promo tour boasted: “Even though Gatsby does not wear a vintage watch in the movie, DiCaprio selected for the premiere the new TAG Heuer Carrera 1887, 43mm, rose gold markers, with brown alligator strap and silver dial, a choice of elegance and contemporary refinement.”

In Gatsby-tied interviews the actor was again at pains to emphasise his personal disinterest in wealth and the high life: he earns only in the interest of his planet-saving efforts. It was hard to know whether you were being sold a Baz Luhrmann film, a luxury watch or DiCaprio as good-guy philanthropist. His world tour was designed to be all three things at once.

However confusing, Ukman says these “cause overlays” are becoming commonplace. “The more robust attributes you can borrow, from a cause as well as a celebrity, the more compelling a sponsorship deal can become. It’s efficient. You can’t be an influential celebrity in 2013 without having some social piece to your persona. The public demands it because we don’t want celebrities who don’t put something back.”

Right now Andy Murray may be interested in winning more trophies than corporate social responsibility, but the next time you see a sports star (or any kind of star) reach for their watch, don’t assume it has anything to do with finding out the time.