- - Monday, July 27, 2015

When the 1977 miniseries “Roots,” featuring LeVar Burton was produced by David L. Wolper, ABC Television had very low expectations for its success. In fact, ABC wanted the entire miniseries to start and end before sweeps started. There was a fear that viewers and advertisers would not be able to connect with the travails of a West African slave who was captured and dominated by Caucasian Americans. They expected Caucasian Americans to avoid watching “Roots.” They were wrong.

ABC Television was astounded when the ratings for “Roots” were record breaking. People of all colors journeyed to the TV in droves to see the saga of Kunta Kinte. “Roots” eventually won nine Emmys, a Golden Globe and a Peabody. It brought in enough profit to make ABC go spin-off crazy on other “Roots” sagas. Fears by advertisers who thought audiences would not relate to “Roots” led to the project being undersold and underestimated.

Serena Williams is the second highest earning woman in sports, right behind Maria Sharapova, according to Forbes Magazine. But Williams dominates Sharapova on the tennis court in terms of prestige, durability and trophies. So why is not Williams raking in more endorsement money than Sharapova?

There could be a multitude of answers. One reason could be that Williams, like her father Richard, is very particular about with whom she will associate her name and for what reasons. It appears that Williams cares most about winning on the court where she is in command and winning off the court to stay in command of her life and endorsements.

Forbes study of the highest paid woman athletes reports that Williams earned nearly $25 million in the recording year. Thirteen million of that was in endorsements. Sharapova pulled in nearly $30 million including $23 million in endorsements the same year.

Subtract that $13 million from Williams and that $23 million from Sharapova and you see who the real winner is overall in terms of history and prestige.

Williams appears to be focused on the history and less on the endorsements. She gets the majority of her endorsement money from Nike, Pepsi, Chase bank and Audemars Piguet a maker of luxury watches.

Along with Nike, Sharapova gets major sponsor money from Head, Avon, Samsung, Tag Heuer and Evian water. She also boasts her own line of candy called Sugarpova. Sharapova has clearly beaten Williams in the endorsement grand slam game.

The elephant in the room, which many try to avoid talking about, is the skin color and body type of both women. That is a different game altogether and one which involves endorsement money on a big scale.

Some advertisers may fear endorsing Williams for reasons similar to why they avoided endorsing “Roots” in the late 1970’s. They assume consumers would shy away from a product endorsed by a person who does not fit the mainstream American stereotype of woman hood, even though Sharapova is a Russian citizen. Tennis courts around the western world and in the U.S. are filled mostly with young women who identify with the body type and skin color of Sharapova. Advertisers target those women and want them to feel more attracted to their products through kindred endorsements of Sharapova. It is about business. It is a business based on a racial stereotype involving the blonde amazon who appears in charge and is at the top of her profession.

Williams wants to be the woman in charge of her life and business and of course her profession. Williams is more focused on history, which outlast any amount of money.

Williams seems comfortable in her own skin, as chocolate brown as it may be, because Grand Slams and records give her a status that money cannot replace. I suspect that Williams, as a Jehovah’s Witness understands the value that her religion places on the accumulation of money, which is that, it cannot help you out at the end of your life.

Spiritual endorsement seems to be more important to Williams than commercial endorsements. Just think. After her latest Wimbledon victory, before thanking her sponsors she thanked her Jehovah. That appears to be where her endorsement priorities really are centered. So, the fact that Sharapova garners more endorsement dollars than she does is not a major distraction when put into the perspective of a devoted spiritual life.

This is not to imply that Sharapova does not have a spiritual life of strong religious convictions, but Williams shares her beliefs in courtside interviews with her fans, which indicates just how important her god is to her. I have not seen Sharapova sharing her spiritual life in the same way.

As to why does Sharapova makes more in endorsements than Williams? You can blame it on skin color, body shape, hair and skittish advertisers who have not learned the lesson of “Roots.” Or you could assume that Williams does not greedily chase big endorsement money that her victories command. Williams has the “who really cares” attitude about endorsement money. Instead, she seeks a chapter in history that places her at the top of her profession and a place that keeps her in good relations with her ultimate sponsor, Jehovah.


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