Speed, determination, impact, strength, tenacity, drive, triumph, these are some of the words that come to mind when I think of Serena Williams. One of the best athletes of our time, Serena is living proof that if you have a certain dream, are prepared to work hard for it, and weather the storms that you will face along the way, then you have the winning formula. In a new Nike Ad dedicated to the tennis powerhouse, Boxer Marlen Esparza said “I think she’s given women and athletes hope and the idea that we can be anything that we want to be”. I’ve been following Serena’s journey since I can remember even though I am not a huge tennis fan, but what she has done for women and young girls across the world goes beyond the sport. She is a true example of the strength of ‘WOMAN’. She represents all that is black excellence, is an embodiment of preparation meets skill. She is the face of greatness.
Serena is arguably the era’s greatest athlete, yet in 2015, she had fewer endorsements than her less-successful counterparts. In fact, on Forbes’ Highest Paid Athletes list, Serena ranked 47th and ranked last in endorsement money, of the seven tennis players listed. It’s no secret that male athletes earn more in endorsements than their female peers, with many arguing that perhaps men are more marketable because of the audiences they attract. However, Serena’s long-time rival, Maria Sharapova, had been earning significantly more than Williams, for over 11 years, sparking American prejudice and racism claims. Forbes explored this topic further, concluding that “physical traits and personality play a significant role in determining endorsement earning”. This I find to be infuriating, because the same standard does not apply to male athletes. If I recall clearly, the most paid athlete endorsers aren’t exactly Zac Efrons or Trey Songz’ for that matter, but women have to adhere to a certain aesthetic in order to be deemed “worthy”.
Serena, who has been subject to racism and sexism throughout her career had this to say on the subject, “If they want to market someone who is white and blonde, that’s their choice. I have a lot of partners who are very happy to work with me. I can’t sit here and say I should be higher on the list because I won more. I’m happy for her, because she has worked hard too. There is enough at the table for everyone. We have to be thankful, and we also have to be positive about it so that the next black person can be No.1 on that list”. Spoken like a true champion!
2016 finally saw Serena supplant Maria Sharapova as Forbes’ Highest Paid Female Athlete. According to the publication, Williams earned $28,9 million in the last 12 months. Forbes’ also reported her career prize money to be over $77 million. It seems like Serena has not only been dominating tennis courts, but the marketing world too, evident with her off-court income which is estimated at $20 million. Serena’s brand endorsement resume includes Nike, PepsiCo (Gatorade), HSN, Australian brand Berlei, JP Morgan Chase, Beats Electronics, luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet and Mini to name a few.
Hopefully as we move forward, we will start seeing women in sport gain the same recognition as their male counterparts. Hopefully, we will see more brands willing to reward excelling female athletes. Sadly this is not just a Serena fight, we still have the Casters, the Netball stars, The Hockey Stars and many others who are still being overlooked for endorsement opportunities. Perhaps, we should use Serena’s numerous Brand Slams as re-affirmation that, change is indeed upon us.