Kei Nishikori did not leave New York last Monday as the new Grand Slam champion at Flushing Meadows but he had done enough before his match against the newly crowned Marin Cilic to earn fame. The 24-year old Japanese did his country proud as he became the first Asian ever to reach the final of a Grand slam tennis tournament. After having been on fringes until 2011, he showed great improvement in his game in the last two years. Plagued by a nagging knee injury for months, he made his mark at the US open, where his phenomenal progress made business houses take notice. Before Nishikori’s Grand Slam title dream was shattered by Croatia’s Marin Cilic, the Japanese had made deep inroads in his earlier rounds. It started on September 1 with his fourth round triumph over the fifth seeded Canadian Milos Raonic in a grueling five-set battle lasting over four hours and ending in favor of Nishikori 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4. Two days later, he played another five-setter with the No.3 seed Stanislas Wawrinka and walked into the semifinal with a 3-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 win to set up a clash with the world No.1 and top seed Novak Djokovic. That match changed the minds of several commercial houses, which had kept their eyes trained on the Japanese for a while with a view to pushing their brands in the market. Nishikori came out with all guns blazing and defeated Djokovic 6-4, 1-6, 7-6, 6-3.
While Japan erupted in early morning celebrations on Tuesday, marketing experts went into a huddle to devise ways and means of cashing on the Brand Nishikori. In the Forbes’ list of top tennis players in order of their earnings, Nishikori is already No.9 but as per the expert opinion, he is headed for the bigger chunk of commercial largesse in promotions and endorsements. Market sees a huge potential in Nishikori, not only in his home country but in Europe and North America as well. As per Neal Pilson, ex-president of CBS Sports and now owner of Pilson Communications Inc., Nishikori hold immense market value. Pilson has advised his clients about maximizing Nishikori’s television exposure, calling Nishikori as the perfect stuff on which to ride the product line. Pilson is impressed with the gradual improvement in the Japanese’s game over the years and his ability to face the games’ top stars with confidence. In addition, there are some personal traits that hold high marketing prospects. Nishikori has a photogenic face, he speak well, smiles a lot and he is self-effacing, when dealing with people. As per Pilson, these ingredients are a huge plus for brand promotion. The way things stand; the day is not far away when the change of endorsement leadership would change for better times in favor of upcoming tennis stars like Kei Nishikori and few others of his genre.
As per Dan Kaplan, tennis writer for SportsBusiness Journal, Nishikori is already a hit in Japan, where entire magazines are devoted to him and he is compensated very well. Time is now ripe for the Japanese to storm the larger world business scene. He has already entered into agreement with nine major sponsors; including casual-wear brand Uniqlo, racquet manufacturer Wilson, sportswear firm Adidas, Delta Airlines and Swiss watch brand Tag Heuer. Nishikori’s earnings during June 2013-June 2014 have crossed $11 million that includes $9 million in endorsements. Though the figure is a far cry from the whopping $56.2 million earned by 17-times Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, it must be borne in mind that the Swiss legend has been around on the stage for a long long time. Federer’s endorsement income is a cool $52 million and he is way ahead of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. With Nishikori just beginning to make his name in North America, marketing fraternity cannot ignore him for long. But the Japanese will have to maintain his form and keep improving his tennis rankings.