Benjamin Li
Jun 8, 2011

Industry rates French Open winner Li Na's star power

HONG KONG - On 4 June, Li Na became the first Chinese tennis player to win The French Open. Campaign asked a number of local industry figures whether she has the same star quality as popular sporting brand ambassadors Yao Ming and Liu Xiang.

Li Na wins the French Open
Li Na wins the French Open

Kitty Lun, chairman and CEO of Lowe China, offers a resounding yes.

"Li Na has all the star quality of the mega level. Not only is she good at her sport, but her path to success, her personality, her look and her appeal are so great that she will be the next Yao Ming and Liu Xiang, if not more.

"She has already created a craze in tennis throughout the country. Her speech in thanking her sponsors will make her really popular among brands. We have a super star here,” said Lun.

Charles Sampson, Y&R China CEO, said Asia loves a winner and he expects major brands are already queing up to stake a piece of Li Na's sponsorship portfolio. “She is not a classic beauty but then again neither is Yao Ming. She has a reputation of being easy to deal with and willing to work with brands," he said.

Sampson added that Li also speaks some English and that should make her interesting to Asian brands looking to expand internationally.

However, Andy Yeung, senior account manager of sports-focused PR agency Elite Step, said individual sportspeople have to work extremely hard to be a big star, unless they can stay in the top niche for an extended period.

He believes that Li's French Open Champion will certainly drive more interest in tennis in the China and Asia markets, "but I don't think Li is yet the 'best'. Unless she keeps on winning and beating those big names, her case is not similar to Liu Xiang because Liu is amongst the best three hurdlers in the world now, so the world's attention falls on him."

Yeung pointed out that when you look at other champions from China in badminton, table tennis and diving, they have been dominating for about 10 years or more, but still not able to generate the influence and advertising opportunities like Yao Ming.

Li currently has an endorsement contract with sports giant Nike and joined tennis stars Roger Federer and Ana Ivanovic on the endorsement roster for luxury watch brand Rolex in February. She has also signed a multi-year deal with Haagen-Dazs ice cream.

Li won the French Open Grand Slam singles title by beating defending champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy on 4 June. Rolex immediately ran a congratulatory ad on the front page of its website featuring pictures of Li in action.

Campaign China

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