Genie Bouchard’s semifinal performance at the Australian Open cemented her place as a talent to watch, as well as a potential marketing star for the WTA. Unsurprisingly, Bouchard was called upon to promote the WTA’s “Road To Singapore” right after the Australian Open.
It’s a tale as old as time in women’s sport. We’ve seen it before in tennis with Anna Kournikova, Ana Ivanovic, and Maria Sharapova. Moreover, the WTA got off the ground due in large part to the prowess of Chris Evert’s game and her “All-American” looks. That the WTA would pounce on Bouchard and her image to promote the tour follows the blueprint of so many who have come before.
Chris Evert joined Eugenie on the trip to Singapore. As a pair, the two make perfect sense from a marketing standpoint. Pictures of the two together convey so much without having to say a word. Bouchard standing beside Evert makes a powerful claim for her game and adds new expectations for her going forward.
But, why not Sloane Stephens? Better yet, if the goal is to promote the future of the WTA tour, why not Stephens and Bouchard together? After her performance in Melbourne, Eugenie rose to #19 in the world rankings, one spot behind Stephens. What better time to nudge the two budding stars together?
Perhaps Sloane was asked and declined. Maybe Simona Halep, 22-year-old world #10 wanted to participate, but her schedule didn’t permit a trip to Singapore? Was this campaign planned before Genie’s run to the semis in Australia? Regardless, what’s likely is that the WTA zoned in on Bouchard and her girl-next-door looks, at the expense of other players who might have been just as appropriate for the job.
The truth is that Bouchard has yet to win anything of significance. Yes, she was named the 2013 WTA Newcomer of the Year, but she has never won a WTA title. Meanwhile, Simona Halep is coming off a 2013 season in which she won 5 tournaments as well as the WTA Tournament of Champions. Yet, the WTA is so eager to push Bouchard as the next best thing.
I don’t know the planning that went into this campaign and how the WTA arrived at Chris Evert and Genie Bouchard for this project. Still, it’s important to ask questions that may help us understand what role, if any, race might have played in the proceedings. Again, why wasn’t Sloane chosen for this launch?
Advertising is a business driven by superficial considerations. Quite often, the substantive qualities of a player (results) are overlooked in favour of how an athlete looks. It’s the sole reason why Maria Sharapova earned almost twice as much as Serena Williams off the court last year. Some might argue this is but a mere part of doing business, the ad world is what it is. But, there’s a great deal to learn about how this reflects society, and we can use it as a tool to have a larger discussion about race.
Serena Williams won 2 Slams, 11 titles, and had one of her finest seasons in 2013. Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova played in only 10 tournaments due to injury, winning two. Yet, there’s such a staggering difference between the two in terms of endorsement dollars. The role that race plays can be very difficult to pinpoint, but surely it must factor into this discrepancy.
The link between the discussion of Serena/Maria and this Evert/Bouchard campaign launch is how society privileges certain ideals of beauty over others. Advertisers and marketers aren’t making these decisions because of inherent racism. They reflect society and drive new discourses, acting on structural inequities that make it more difficult for women of colour to gain equal access to financial opportunities. Given similar talent on the tennis court, what separates Genie and Sloane off it?
If Stephens and Bouchard continue on their current career trajectories, we might see a similar dynamic develop between the two as has happened with Serena and Maria. Sloane is likely to lose endorsement dollars to Bouchard for no other reason than Genie’s ability to fulfil corporate demand for a certain kind of beauty. I hope the WTA will be more mindful of its responsibility to mitigate rather than facilitate the racial overtones of women’s tennis.
For more on the “Road To Singapore” campaign, click here.