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Bad boys of sport can be a good investment for brands

Tennis star Nick Kyrgios attracts sponsors and Instagram followers by being maverick

Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon this summer

As sports fans we want to watch the world’s most talented players, but not only that, we want to be entertained.

Being ‘entertaining’ can have both positive and negative impacts on a sport, both from a playing and business perspective – just look at Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios. 

Kyrgios has been one of the most talked about sports stars in recent months. On court, he has been on the form of his life, culminating in a first Grand Slam Final at Wimbledon last month.

He also won a doubles title in Atlanta, followed by both a singles title and a doubles title in Washington, not to mention beating the world’s number one Daniil Medvedev during a run at Montreal.

So from being ranked 81st one year ago in singles and 237th in doubles, he is now ranked 37th and 22nd respectively.

At 27, the time is definitely now for Kyrgios, especially with the likely absences at varying times of tennis legends Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, who have still dominated the sport ahead of younger players making their major win breakthroughs. 

Some may call Kyrgios a big serving maverick, that rare kind of player with expectational natural talent that plays with flair a level above others.

However, with this kind of player there may be certain character traits that also come alive on court: a confidence bordering at times on arrogance.

He seems to have a fuse that can ignite behaviour such as verbal assaults on officials, use of bad language, damaging rackets through frustration, not to mention wearing non-compliant clothing. 

This summer’s Wimbledon Championships is a case in point, where traditional all-white clothing was often ‘complemented’ at press conferences and in between matches by red Jordan branded headwear and sneakers.

Kyrgios could have simply been trying to attract media and public attention and potentially more social media followers as result of his actions, or he may have been in line for additional bonuses from his sponsors for giving them more ‘air-time’.

Or perhaps he just making a point to not conform and just be himself.

It is these character traits, as well as a lack of consistently good performances and not having an actual coach that have helped slow down his march up the player rankings in recent years. 

Wimbledon handed out fines this year of around £11,500 to Kyrgios because his behaviour did not conform to the Code of Conduct Standards of the Championships. 

Person, Human, Tennis
Rebel appeal: Nick Kyrgios. Picture: Reuters

Ironically, it is such actions that contribute to fans’ interest in watching what may otherwise be just another one-sided routine final.

As fans, we are interested in the unpredictability of play and players showing an emotionally charged human side that can be related to, as opposed to being statesmen-like professionals who never put a foot wrong.

Improved performances and results may lead to greater visibility for the player and associated brands. In Kyrgios’ case, apparel and footwear provider Nike, along with racket brand Yonex and Beats headphones, have most commonly been seen on court. 

These partnerships have also been supplemented by his previous partnerships with brands trying to potentially reach younger audiences, such as Old El Paso, Kia, Uber Eats, PlayStation and Call of Duty, even when Kyrgios has not been active on the circuit. 

Additionally, the player himself also contributes to good causes and his own foundation aims to bring young players into the sport who would not normally have had the opportunity to play. 

Kyrgios may seem too much of a risk for some brands – a ‘bad boy’ whose actions may at times be controversial – whether on or off court. 

To others though, this kind of player will remain appealing and a way to reach audiences they would not ordinarily be able to target and engage with, especially as the player has 3.1 million followers on Instagram.

I, for one, will keep an eye out for when he will next play tournaments in the Gulf region. Whether through the means of heroics or antics, new audiences are being attracted to the sport and if it means more people actually playing tennis or supporting the sport’s growth in some way, then this is surely positive.

Sunny Singh is managing director of Collaborate! Sports and Entertainment – creating brand partnerships for added relevance and value