April 19, 2017 / 10:52 PM / in 8 months

Serena Williams pregnancy likely to boost sponsorship: industry experts

(Reuters) - A pregnant Serena Williams makes the tennis superstar even more attractive to corporate sponsors, allowing her to extend her reach into maternity wear and motherhood products, sponsorship industry executives said.

Williams on Wednesday confirmed her pregnancy through spokeswoman Kelly Bush Novak after the tennis player posted a picture of herself in a yellow bathing suit on Snapchat social media with the caption “20 weeks.”

Williams, 35, is already known around the world for her dominance of women’s tennis, but pregnancy would make her even more likeable in the eyes of the wider public, experts in the sponsorship industry said.

“You take an iconic name who’s now a brand and you add pregnancy to it, you get a happy story,” said Gary Fechter, an attorney at McCarter & English who has represented companies in sponsorship deals. “This just makes her even more valuable.”

With almost $29 million in salary and sponsorship earnings, including from Nike Inc (NKE.N) and PepsiCo Inc (PEP.N), Williams ranked as the top paid female athlete in the world last year on a list compiled by Forbes magazine. But lower prize money in tennis left her 40th in the overall standings.

However, her earnings from sponsorship deals alone, at $20 million, would rank her far higher on the Forbes list - tied at 20th with fellow tennis player Maria Sharapova.

Williams could add to her earnings by appealing to new audiences, the experts said. Existing sponsors could tell new stories with an expecting superstar athlete, and new corporate sponsors might sign up with the mom-to-be as well.

“This just adds another dimension to Serena the person,” said Jim Andrews, senior vice president with IEG, a WPP Plc (WPP.L) unit that tracks sponsorship spending.

Lawyer Fechter said there has not been an athlete of Williams’ prominence who stepped away while still dominant, but he pointed out that pregnancy only made non-sports celebrity Kim Kardashian more popular.

“This will enhance her likeability and certainly her marketability,” Fechter said of Williams.

    Industry officials agreed no existing sponsor would ever drop Williams as a spokeswoman because she remains at the top of her sport and any move by a company to distance itself from a pregnant woman would likely be heavily panned by the public.

    In addition to Nike and Pepsi, Williams’ roster of sponsors includes Wilson Sporting Goods Co, JP Morgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), Apple Inc’s (AAPL.O) headphone company Beats Electronics, International Business Machines Corp (IBM.N) and German automaker BMW’s (BMWG.DE) Mini brand, according to IEG.

    Officials at Nike, JP Morgan, Pepsi and BMW could not be reached to comment.

    Existing clients could tap into new markets with a pregnant superstar athlete, industry experts said. Williams could even expand her clothing line marketed on HSN Inc (HSNI.O) into maternity wear.

    “There are a lot of different products and a lot of different brands that will feature families, motherhood, young kids and here’s somebody who would be potentially a great working mom if she continues her career,” said Doug Shabelman, president of Burns Entertainment, which matches celebrities with corporate sponsors.

    Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit, additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; editing by Grant McCool

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