Roger Federer plays his opening match at Wimbledon Tuesday—his first visit to the All England Club since losing to Novak Djokovic in the 2019 final, when he failed to convert a pair of match points (the event was canceled in 2020). Wimbledon has been home to many of Federer’s greatest triumphs, including a record eight titles, but also some of his most crushing defeats, with four finals losses—three of them in five sets.
Federer handled both the wins and losses with grace, endearing fans and sponsors to the tennis icon and helping him become one of the most marketable athletes on the planet for two decades. His unmatched endorsement portfolio of blue-chip brands makes him just the sixth athlete—and first tennis player—to rack up $1 billion in career earnings while still active. He joins Tiger Woods, Floyd Mayweather, LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the 10-figure club.
“Federer is attractive from a marketing standpoint because he is an archetype of how tennis views itself,” said T. Bettina Cornwell, academic director at the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business. “He is graceful and composed; he is stylish, never gauche, and importantly, he inspires younger players to behave similarly. Consider [Rafael] Nadal’s respect for Federer.”
Sportico estimates the 20-time Grand Slam champion has earned at least $1 billion during his career from prize money, endorsements and appearance fees since he turned pro in 1998. The vast majority was banked off the court, as his career prize money is $130 million, second all-time behind Djokovic.
His on-court resume is astounding with 103 career ATP titles, 237 straight weeks ranked No. 1 and a run of 18 Grand Slam finals over 19 events between 2005 and 2010. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are the stars of this Golden Age of men’s tennis. The Big Three have racked up a combined 59 Slam titles, with Djokovic (19) nipping at the heels of the record shared by Fed and Rafa. But Federer is in a class by himself for off-court earnings.
He ranked seventh last month in Sportico’s study of the world’s highest-paid athletes with $84 million. The tally included only $46,000 in prize money, as Federer was sidelined most of the year recovering from injuries. His $84 million in traditional endorsement earnings were tops among all athletes and dwarfed Djokovic ($29 million) and Nadal ($23 million).
Federer took greater control of his career off the court when he left sports agency giant IMG in 2012 and launched TEAM8 with his longtime agent Tony Godsick. His earnings have soared since. The boutique agency is completely geared to support Federer’s business endeavors and has added a small roster of athletes like 17-year-old rising American tennis star Coco Gauff.
Godsick and Federer also founded a new annual tennis event, the Laver Cup, which is comparable to golf’s Ryder Cup, matching a team from Europe against the rest of the world. The fourth version of the event will take place in September in Boston, after being postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus.
Federer is at the top of every tennis promotor’s wish list for lower-tier events, allowing him to command appearance fees of $2 million or more for these tournaments. He’s also embarked on barnstorming exhibition trips like his 2019 tour of South America that netted him at least $15 million for the five-match tour. He’s carved out time for other exhibitions that have helped raise more than $50 million for his eponymous foundation focused on educating children in Africa.
Federer, who turns 40 in August, shows no signs of slowing down as a corporate pitchman. His latest partner is Switzerland Tourism, appearing in a campaign with an unlikely co-star—actor Robert DeNiro—for an ad that wraps, “Maybe call Hanks.”
Companies have flooded Federer with big cash endorsements, but his biggest payday might come from an equity-based deal he signed with startup Swiss sneaker brand On in late 2019. Federer invested in the company as part of the agreement, and his stake would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars based on a potential IPO this year that values the company at $5 billion, according to Reuters.
Tennis players are wildly attractive from a marketing perspective as part of a year-round global sport that appeals to both men and women. Sponsors flock to the sport for the high-end demographics of the fan base. Witness the U.S. Open, where the median household income of fans at the National Tennis Center in 2019 was $216,000, and 78% had a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Federer’s endorsement roster includes 14 brands, and half of them have been sponsoring him for more than a decade, including Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz, Rolex and Wilson. Brands never want to get out of Federer’s orbit once they are in it.
One exception: Nike. The two split in 2018 after 20 years together, and Federer signed a blockbuster 10-year, $300 million deal with Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo. It was an unheard of sum for a tennis player, much less one who was 36 years old. The money was guaranteed whether he played or not. And since Uniqlo didn’t make sneakers, it gave Federer an opportunity to double-dip and cut a second deal with On after wearing Nike head-to-toe for two decades.
Nike held on to the rights to the popular “RF” logo for two years after Federer split from the Swoosh, but the trademark is back with Fed, and Uniqlo is pumping out the RF hats that are speckled through the crowd at every tennis event.
Most of Federer’s sponsors have extended their deals with him into retirement and beyond. Risky? Not a chance. Said Oregon’s Cornwell: “Federer is timeless.”