Andy Murray prepares for a practice session surrounded by his team of coaches.
Long tipped as a possible Wimbledon champion, it is not only Andy Murray’s game that has vastly improved. The relaxed demeanour, iconic all-white kit and trim haircut on show this week are a long way from the surly teenager with unruly curls who first inspired those predictions of greatness.
The makeover is a by product of an ambitious master plan by the company formed by Simon Fuller, the impresario behind the Spice Girls, David Beckham and Pop Idol, to turn him into a global sporting icon on a par with Roger Federer and Tiger Woods.
Work will begin on reviewing Murray’s portfolio of sponsors and replacing some with global brands, helping to establish him as an international star. His contract with Fred Perry is up at the end of this year and rivals including Adidas are already courting him heavily.
19 Entertainment will attempt to utilise Fuller’s influence in the global media market to open doors across the world. As tennis is one of the few truly global sports, the aim is to target Asia and the Middle East, as well as the UK.
They have also targeted the US market, recently securing him a USA Today column and profile pieces in the New York Times and LA Times.
Although Murray already earns an estimated £15m a year from sponsorship deals with the likes of Fred Perry, RBS and Highland Spring, there is expected to be a sharper focus on exploiting them. Until recently, some of the shirts that Murray wore on court were not even available in the shops. Better management of his sponsorship portfolio and image will also help propel him up the league table of the biggest earners in world sport. Last year, Woods was estimated to earn over £88m and Beckham more than £33m. Federer is the top earning tennis player on the tour.
Murray decided to jettison Ace Management, a boutique sports agency, for 19 in January this year, but it did not begin working for him until March.
19 was behind the rise of “Brand Beckham” after the iconic former England captain dropped the sports agency SFX that had overseen his rise from Manchester United trainee to globally recognised star.
But not everyone is convinced. Pat Cash, a former Wimbledon champion, pointed out this week that Murray was “never going to be eye candy” and criticised his “boring, monotone” voice.
Murray, who will face Serbian Viktor Troicki on Saturday in the third round, has credited his rise to world number three to being comfortable with the bespoke team that now surrounds him. The move to 19 was seen as an attempt to do the same with his off court affairs.
He was heavily courted by IMG, the more traditional sports marketing giant that represents some of the biggest names, including Tiger Woods and Federer. Its head of tennis Fernando Soler said this week it would keep trying “every day” to sign him. But he rejected its overtures in favour of Fuller’s company.
Although the Centre Court crowd has vocally backed Murray this week, he is still viewed with scepticism by some of the Wimbledon set, who preferred the middle England charms of Tim Henman and remember his joke about following anyone but England in the 2006 World Cup. But his advisers believe Murray’s appeal reaches far beyond SW19. With his penchant for Twitter, practical jokes and video games, his advisers believe he appeals to a younger demographic than some of his peers and will extend to those who don’t even follow tennis.
PR experts, such as Mark Borkowski, credit Murray and his family with taking good advice to rectify his image problem. “He’s just grown up. We forget how young he is. He took some very good advice,” he said.
Not everyone is convinced that Murray has it in him to rival the biggest earners in the sports and entertainment world. But 19 is adamant that the combination of dogged determination and natural talent that took him from whacking a sponge around the family living room 20 years ago to number three in the world, will help him perform a similarly unlikely journey to global icon.