Tennis is awash in young talent that is eager to sign the next big endorsement deal. Andy Roddick told Boardroom his story about dealing with the pressures that come with success.
As prominent young male tennis players like Taylor Fritz, Jenson Brooksby, Reilly Opelka and Sebastian Korda rise through the ranks, sponsorship deals are sure to follow. With that, will come new off-court challenges and opportunities. The next generation of stars can learn a thing or two from Andy Roddick, the most recent American man to win a Grand Slam and reach World No. 1.
Roddick, who won the US Open in 2003, recently sat down with Boardroom to discuss the importance of that accomplishment in building his off-court profile, some eventful contract negotiations, and what advice he has for the game’s young talent.
Roddick is currently working with IBM to promote the new innovation the company has brought to the US Open. Throughout the tournament, fans can check IBM’s Match Insights with Watson, which provides an AI-powered fact sheet with the important details surrounding a given match. It also offers AI-powered predictions for singles matches and will explain the biggest win factors in each match.
This interview has been lightly edited for length clarity.
Kenny Ducey: What you would attribute your off-court success to? What was the beginning of this journey for you?
Andy Roddick: There’s a lot of factors obviously, early in your career. Financial security mattered, but not at the expense of a crappy working relationship. I made some mistakes early. I realized I was signing stuff for money and that felt horrible and I didn’t want to do that anymore. So, knowing what you want is important. Knowing what you don’t is probably as important. When a deal was pending, something as simple as getting coffee with the team that you would work with, that mattered to me and that normally let them know what you like to do, what you didn’t like to do. Being upfront, I think it gives the company a better chance to actually leverage what you’re good at.
Also, the benefit of being an American on the heels of probably the greatest generation we’ve had was hard sometimes, but it was certainly beneficial from a corporate relationship standpoint. The generation before me with Pete [Sampras] and Andre [Agassi] and Jim [Courier] and [Michael] Chang and the tail end of [Jimmy] Connors and [John] McEnroe, they created a lot of for the sport, especially here in the states.
KD: How did you come up with your strategy?
AR: I don’t think more voices in the room necessarily means a better result. It was probably just a simple, ‘Listen, I wanna spend X amount of days doing this. This is how many I can do without feeling like it’s taking away from the training.’ Because if you don’t win and don’t advance to the later stages of slams, then it’s kind of all for naught.
There’s a responsibility, but you’d rather overshoot by 20% than 200%, which is a mistake you see made often. And also when the companies know that when you show up, you’re gonna be great, even if it’s less than they would want. You’re there with a great attitude. You’re there early, you’ll stay an hour later, if you’re gonna block out a day, do it correctly.
KD: You ended your career in Lacoste. How did that partnership materialize?
AR: I was with Reebok and I wore that right through 2004. We actually had a deal in place where we were gonna extend that relationship. I think I was No. 2 in the world. It was early 2005.
I remember, Paul Fireman was the chairman of Reebok at the time. We were at a run-down restaurant in Memphis after I played a match and we kind of had a handshake deal on extending that relationship. And then it kind of went cold out of nowhere. And I didn’t really know what the deal was. In April I didn’t have a shoe and clothing deal anymore. That was a weird position to be in when you’re No. 2 in the world.
What I didn’t know is about the merger between Reebok and Adidas. Adidas acquiring Reebok was going through and they didn’t want to take on any new long-term contracts. So I kind of got stuck in the cross-hairs of that, but I’m going, ‘Gosh, I’m two weeks away from being a free agent. This is insane. What’s going on?’ We were able to get a deal done with Lacoste pretty quickly. We were under the gun and they had decided that they really wanted to invest in the U.S. market. So I was pretty lucky. Most deals take six months or a year to get together. This one was done start to finish in about 10 days.
KD:That’s pretty wild. So there was a non-zero chance that you were just gonna be out there as a No. 2 player in the world playing like a white t-shirt.
AR: There was a very real chance. I remember my last tournament was Houston with Reebok and I I got my Lacoste stuff maybe three days before I played Rome. They didn’t even make the type of stuff I wanted, it was pretty cobbled together but it ended up working.
KD: You did re-sign with them, so it sounds like the partnership was to your liking.
AR: I think it worked. Obviously there’s a huge profile for tennis in France. It was weird for a place that I never really played. My racquet was a French company, my shoe and clothing ended up being a French company. I think the crossover of the two markets made sense.
KD: When did the off-court partnerships such as the one with AMEX really start to come? Was it after you won the US Open?
AR: I think playing well in an event in which that company has a general interest makes sense. Had I [won a slam] in Australia, maybe AMEX didn’t have the profile there that it did at the US Open. I think I was lucky that my best win came in a place like New York where they had created probably, what is still to this day, the best corporate offering as far as access. The suites are amazing. As far as doing business, the US Open might be the single best event. The Masters is great, but you can’t have your phone on site, so there’s only so much you can actually do. And you can’t actually watch the golf while you’re being hosted by someone. I think it just so happened that the US Open provided a bunch of opportunities with the brands that they had also created interest for, and I think I kind of got the trickle down of that a little bit.
KD: Obviously a lot of American men have a big serve and forehand. What do you feel like made you the most marketable? Was it your personality, or was it the fact that you had one of biggest serves on tour?
AR: I could serve really well, but beyond that I was pretty average. Roger [Federer] makes the game look easy. I think people can relate to Rafa [Nadal] because it looks like there’s more effort put in. I think mixing in with the New York crowd, I don’t think people ever had to guess what my effort level was gonna be. There was a chance I would break something. I was pretty flawed.
Also, I think I was pretty honest. I think that maybe resonated pretty well. I wasn’t scared to say something or make something known if I had an opinion. Having my best results at Wimbledon and the US Open, which are probably the tournaments that corporations look at the most, was beneficial.
KD: What are some things that you would tell a younger player, or a younger Andy Roddick, when it comes to growing your brand off of the court and making some money?
AR: I think the power of no is underrated. I kind of cringe sometimes when someone has success and then, you know, there’s eight new deals the next week. I think being thoughtful, not being in a rush, kinda letting the game come to you. You’re allowed to ask questions too, as 50% of the relationship. I think those are kind of the bullet points and I think the responses to those types of things probably lead you to five or 10 more questions. I think not putting yourself out there with volume of exposure, but the right type of exposure, and kind of think about which partnerships would probably create the best and biggest impact while also not taking away from your day job.
KD: How hard is it to strike that balance between trying to make some money, but also not overextend yourself, like you said, and say yes to everything?
AR:I think it matters with scheduling. For instance, at the US Open, my corporate responsibilities were done by Wednesday. Everyone wanted you in the lead-up. I needed to get my reps in. I needed to be able to adjust those last four days of practice based on what my form was. And so I never wanted to have to adjust the last four days of practice around an appearance. I think just being smart with scheduling mitigates a lot of the confusion and the feeling of being overloaded.
I wanted the ability to be selfish in the most important practice days going in, and I was pretty unapologetic about that because I also understood and was able to explain that if I do well in this, we all win. Whereas if I do a bunch of stuff for you on Sunday and something bad happens on Monday, we all lose. And again, if you call your shot and you’re only doing Monday through Wednesday, do it really well, do it with the smile on your face.