U.S. Un-Opened: Why is Beauty So Low-Profile at the Biggest Global Tennis Event of the Year?

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\"beautyIt isn’t Arthur Ashe Stadium, but as far as all-eyes-on-you public venues go, New York City’s heavily trafficked Bryant Park is pretty up there.

So in late August, in the run-up to the 2015 U.S. Open, it made solid marketing sense to have tennis superstar Rafael Nadal strip to the waist in front of a googly-eyed midtown Manhattan crowd. As the new face – and body – of Tommy Hilfiger’s men’s underwear, Nadal was tasked with “playing” a few models in a makeshift mini exhibition match. And for every point Nadal lost, he would remove an item of clothing. Hence, the exposed torso.

Yes, Nadal’s having an epically bad year, one in which this 14-time Grand Slam champ has been bounced early from each and every marquée-name tennis tournament. But as the global ambassador for Hilfiger, the hunky Majorcan still brings the eyeballs like nobody’s business.

In signing Nadal in December 2014 to a two-year, estimated $3 to $4 million deal to front not only his skivvies, but also his tailored apparel and new TH Bold fragrance, Hilfiger is banking on serious name recognition. Though the U.S. isn’t quite as tennis-besotted as the rest of the world, Nadal’s presence on the global sports stage is massive. According to brand research, his awareness level in Asia is 91 percent. In Europe it’s even higher, clocking in at 95 percent.

Talk About Bang For a Contract Buck

And as Hilfiger has pointed out, thanks to an increasingly grueling calendar year that kicks off with the Australian Open in January and wraps with the U.S. Open in September, high-profile tennis stars are the gifts that just keep giving. Unlike pro players in team sports, who toil during defined seasons, tennis champs have to contend with shifting ATP and WTA rankings that are unveiled like clockwork every Monday morning.

In other words, the concept of an off-season doesn’t exist in tennis.

So if they’re always on, always out there, always top of mind for consumers to connect the dots with, why aren’t more Nadal types under contract to beauty brands? And why, when I watch the U.S. Open (and the Australian, and the French, and Wimbledon and all the smaller, precursor events like Indian Wells) do I see pretty much zilch in the form of beauty advertising?

Wait – let me amend that last statement; I do see beauty advertising when I watch televised tennis. And that fact boggles my mind, especially during the U.S. Open, the favorite tournament among Americans: It’s those tiny sponsorship patches on players’ outfits, which, during close-ups and on Jumbotron appearances, can loom pretty darn large.

The first time I saw those, my eyes popped out of my head. “Is that a Guinot patch?” I gasped. “Guinot as in microscopic French beauty brand with zero presence Guinot?”

The only other beauty sponsorship patch I saw – and continue to see – is that of an even tinier French brand with an even lower profile: Mary Cohr.

\"\"Patching Together Real Impact

Where’s the Clinique sponsorship patch? How about a good, ole L’Oréal Paris patch, or a Pantene? I find it baffling. Guinot? Mary Cohr? And they’re not reserved for merely less-famous players, either. Though he doesn’t wear one currently, even Andy Murray has sported a Guinot patch. Yup, Wimbledon-winning, ranked third in the world Andy Murray.

Putting those patches aside for a moment (but, please – what a missed opportunity!), let’s circle back to The Case of the MIA Beauty Contracts.

As the highest-paid female athlete in the world, Maria Sharapova has a slew of endorsement contracts – Nike apparel, Samsung, Porsche, TAG Heuer, Evian, Head racquets. But apart from a small deal with Avon to front its Luck fragrance, which was announced right after she won the 2014 French Open and came and went without a whole lot of fanfare, Sharapova has not stepped out, in a major way, in the beauty ad arena.

Why no big beauty deal? Sharapova has said that keeping up on the pro tennis circuit has meant that she hasn’t been able to carve out the promotional time needed for a side-gig like that. While major cosmetics contracts can be incredibly lucrative, they can also be restrictive, tethering participants to personal appearances all over the world.

With her eye on a post-tennis future, however, Sharapova has revealed both an entrepreneurial streak and a decided interest in beauty. In 2012, she launched her own candy brand (Sugarpova, now available in nearly 30 countries), and in April, 2104, she acquired a “substantial” stake in Supergoop, the buzzy, Texas-based sun care brand.

While Sharapova’s involvement with Supergoop goes way beyond the standard “face” arrangement, sun care is, without question, a slamdunk beauty-endorsement category for tennis champs. After all, their job dictates literally chasing the sun all over the planet, from one temperate climate to the next. That’s why the word “seamless” springs to mind when considering Shiseido’s announcement, this past June, that it had signed rising star Ana Ivanovic as the face of its WetForce sun line. Seriously sweat-proof, WetForce was designed to stay put during intense activity, and not slide into the eyes or onto racquet-wielding hands.

Of course Nadal, Sharapova and Ivanovic aren’t the only tennis hotties who can bring some major sizzle, awareness level and year-round eyeballs to a beauty brand. I could so see the Mohawked, trash-talking, fine-collecting Nick Kyrgios fronting a bad-ass MAC campaign.

For any beauty brands deciding to test the tennis waters, my advice is twofold: One, lighten up on the promo requirements, perhaps by taking page out of Hilfiger’s playbook and building events around the player, and not vice versa. And two, get in the sponsorship-patch game, stat.

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