N E W Y O R K, Dec. 21, 2000 -- Tennis star Venus Williams signed a contractwith Reebok worth a reported $40 million today in what isbelieved to be the richest endorsement deal ever for a femaleathlete.
“This is another part of reaching out for my dreams,” saidWilliams, who won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and Olympic gold medalsduring a 35-match winning streak this year. At 20, she is rankedthird in the world.
Rare for Women
Huge endorsement deals are rare in women’s sports. Nike hasdeals with soccer’s Mia Hamm, basketball’s Lisa Leslie, track’sMarion Jones and top-ranked tennis star Martina Hingis, who has asix-year pact worth nearly $30 million.
On paper, Anna Kournikova may have the richest deal of all, asix-year contract with Adidas worth $50 million. But it guaranteesthe tennis star only about $3 million, with the rest contingent onher success on the court. And she has yet to win her firsttournament.
By contrast, Nike has a reported $100 million deal with TigerWoods, and Michael Jordan generates $40 million a year inendorsement income two years after his retirement from basketball.
The terms of Williams’ deal were not disclosed, but Reebokmarketing officer Angel Martinez suggested that reports of afive-year contract worth $40 million were accurate.
Similarities To Tiger Woods
Like Woods, Williams, who is black, has succeeded as a minorityathlete in a sport historically dominated by whites.
“I have to be the best in everything I do,” she said. “We’vecome a long way with the WNBA and the soccer players. I’m doingwhat I can. Maybe that’s the most important part.”
Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women’s SportsFoundation, said the deal “announces a new era in the corporatevaluing of the female athlete.”
David Bober, who represents Hamm, was also impressed.
“It can only help shorten the gap between male and femaleathletes on endorsements,” he said. “It’s another signal that weare moving toward parity, a clear message that women’s sports arehere to stay.”
Williams has been affiliated with Reebok since she was 11 yearsold. Their previous agreement, a five-year, $12 million deal signedin 1995, expired in April, just before Williams began her winningstreak.
Williams’ younger sister, Serena, has an endorsement deal withPuma.
Venus Williams recalled taking a congratulatory telephone callfrom President Clinton after winning the U.S. Open, telling him,“Lower my taxes.” Now she might need a word with President-electBush.
“My people will have lunch with his people,” she said.