August 30, 2010: Entering the 2009 U.S. Tennis Open, Melanie Oudin was an up-and-coming young American tennis star with unlimited but unknown potential, two marketing partners and no official Web site to call her own.
After becoming the darling of the Open last year when she defeated Maria Sharapova, Elena Dementieva and Nadia Petrova to become the youngest American Grand Slam quarterfinalist since Serena Williams won the 1999 Open, Oudin maintained her presence as one of the sport's most active, and marketing activated, female players. Although she has not matched her sterling run at the 2009 Open at most events over the past year (compiling an 18-24 record in singles play), she entered the 2010 Open ranked 43rd on the WTA Tour versus 70th in 2009, making her the second-highest ranked American woman behind Venus Williams at No. 4. (No. 1 ranked Serena Williams withdrew from the tournament due to injury.)
Along with her two long-time partners, adidas and Wilson, the 18-year-old Oudin's marketing alliances now include Virgin Mobil, AirTran, Half Hour Power and BackOffice Associates. Industry analysts put her marketing earnings close to $3 million, versus about $1 million prior to the 2009 Open. Oudin is represented by Sam Duvall of sports/entertainment marketing agency Lagardere Unlimited division Blue Entertainment Sports Television (which was acquired by Lagardere this past June).
According to analysts, a good run at this Open could jumpstart deals such as her own clothing and fragrance line, an alliance with a major department store retailer targeting teens and young athletes and other prime-time gems, possibly ramping up her endorsement total another few million dollars. A short stay at the Open, conversely, won't cost her any current deals but could delay new ones.
As she did last year, Oudin will wear on-court adidas footwear that she specially customized at www.miadidas.com. In 2009, Oudin's shoes had the word "Believe" on them. This year, her customized Barricade 6.0 shoes read "Courage." At the Web site, Oudin explained, "Courage to me means playing with no fear and going for it no matter what." Text also offers, "Be Stronger."
Among supporting activation, Virgin Moble said it would donate $1 million to homeless youth through Re*Generation if Oudin wins the Open women's singles title. Oudin started off on the right foot when she won her opening match on Aug. 30 against Olga Savchuk.
"The RE*Generation initiative was founded by Virgin Mobile to empower young people to help less fortunate peers resurrect their lives," Bob Stohrer, vp-marketing for Sprint's Virgin Mobile brand, said when the company signed her to a deal this past March. "We've made significant strides in raising awareness and direct involvement with the troubling issue of youth homelessness, and having an ambassador like Melanie Oudin committed to this cause is very powerful. Melanie's 'Believe' mantra transcends tennis and naturally extends to the work we'll do together."
Other activations supporting her appearance at the tournament include an AirTran promotion in which a consumer received a trip to the U.S. Open, and a segment that focused on her as part of a series sponsored by American Express,"Next Contenders."
"The main thing is that I get recognized almost everywhere I go . . . and I've meet a lot of cool people I would not have met," Oudin says on her Web site about her post-U.S. Open life. "Queen Latifah, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Timberlake . . . It just happened so fast I didn't get a chance to learn how to handle anything, It was so overwhelming . . . [Now] I have to make sure that I'm focused and ready."