In 2003, she signed a multimillion-dollar, multi-year contract with Nike at the age of 21 – almost 20 years later, the sportswear brand is celebrating her rich legacy by naming a new building in the Nike World HQ in Oregon after her. But what is next for Williams and Nike? How will her relationship with Nike and other sponsors evolve? There’s a huge opportunity to continue her legacy into something that can live beyond the court.
As brands continue to shift towards campaigns that create long-term and authentic impact, retirement offers the chance for a sportsperson and sponsor to continue the legacy they started. And at 40 years old, Williams’ career is only just getting into the second set. Brands should not just be using retirement to look back at what an athlete achieved, but as a chance to look forward to help them achieve their next goal, and define what the next 20 years could look like.
In Williams’ case as a truly global star, now is time for sponsors to lean in and demonstrate their commitment to make real change to the game away from the spotlight. The opportunities are endless – from access to the game and diversity in the sport, to collaborative products and joint ventures.
If other GOATs are anything to go by, there’s still, at the very least, a huge monetary opportunity for both the brand and Williams. Michael Jordan’s legacy lives on at Nike – it was reported earlier this year that the Air Jordan brand generates $3m of sales every five hours. David Beckham has a lifetime deal with Adidas, as does Usain Bolt with Puma.
Serena Williams is just getting warmed up, so let’s hope her sponsors are too.