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Monday, December 8
Updated: December 11, 6:07 PM ET
 
Deal could be largest for a female athlete

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

Nike is closer to becoming the most dominant force in the women's tennis world.

The shoe and apparel giant already has Lindsay Davenport and Amelie Mauresmo under contract, as well as rising stars Daniela Hantuchova and Maria Sharapova. Now Serena Williams has agreed to a deal that sources say could be worth as much as $55 million over the next eight years. It is not certain how her ranking or success in Grand Slam events would affect the value of the deal, but sources say the contract has many incentives for performance.

It could be the largest endorsement contract, in total value, ever signed by a female athlete, assuming Serena dominates on the court over the life of the contract. Sources say the deal is technically for five years, but the contract has a three-year option that will trigger based on court performance.

Keven Davis, who negotiates deals for sisters Serena and Venus Williams, would not comment on details of Serena's contract.

Nike announced it reached a multiyear deal with Williams on Thursday but did not reveal the length or financial terms.

Serena Williams has worn Puma's shoe and apparel for the past six years and in July, seven months after her contract with the company expired, it appeared she was ready to renew the relationship. At the time, she told ESPN.com that she was "closing up things with Puma," because they would make it easier for her to make her own clothing line.

Over the past couple of months, Nike is believed to have agreed to give Serena design input on her signature shoes and apparel lines.

Venus Williams, Serena's older sister who signed a five-year, $40 million deal with Reebok three years ago, was once considered to be more marketable. But Serena has come on strong in the past two years, winning five of the last seven Grand Slam events and taking over the No. 1 ranking from July 2002 through August 2003. She finished this year ranked No. 3 in the world, after knee surgery in August cost her a chance to defend her U.S. Open title. Venus also missed the U.S. Open with an abdominal strain, and finished the season ranked No. 11 -- her lowest ranking since she finished the 1997 campaign ranked No. 22.

The deal will make Serena the highest-paid women's tennis player off-the-court with at least $15 million per year -- besting her sister, who makes about $14 million annually. That might not be the case for long, as industry sources told ESPN.com that Venus is in negotiations to extend -- and perhaps augment -- her Reebok deal.

Serena was a bargain to Puma. Since she was ranked No. 99 in the world when she signed in January 1998, and the company was only paying her about $2.5 million annually once she gained a Top 10 ranking. Serena also pitches Wrigley's Doublemint gum, McDonald's, Avon cosmetics, Close-Up toothpaste, and has a number of video game deals.

Nike owns the largest share of the tennis shoe market at about 18 percent, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.

Nike has agreed to nearly $200 million in deals with four athletes over the next five to seven years. The company signed LeBron James to a seven-year, $90 million deal in May and fellow rookie Carmelo Anthony to a six-year, $18 million deal. Nike also inked Kobe Bryant to a five-year deal, reportedly worth at least $40 million, though it's not clear whether a possible sexual assault conviction will relieve Nike of its commitment.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.




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