When Copper Branch, a Montreal-based vegan restaurant chain, signed a marketing deal with Bianca Andreescu in March, for a mere $50,000 or so, its timing could not have been better.
The 19-year-old from Mississauga started the year at No. 152 in the Women’s Tennis Association’s rankings. Since then, she’s rocketed to No. 15, and on Saturday will face off against 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in the final of the U.S. Open, the world’s richest tennis tournament.
The game is expected to draw a massive viewership. Thursday night’s semi-final was the most watched U.S. Open broadcast ever on TSN, the Canadian broadcaster said on Twitter. Audiences peaked at more than 1.5 million viewers at 11:14 p.m. as Ms. Andreescu sealed her victory against Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic.
The big numbers for TSN are a boon to advertisers, but don’t boost the network’s bottom line immediately since it sells almost all its ads for the event before it starts. However, sources at the network, who were granted anonymity because they are not permitted by their employer to speak on the record, say TSN plans to increase the advertising rates on tennis tournaments featuring Ms. Andreescu in future.
Copper Branch, meanwhile, is hoping that Ms. Andreescu’s meteoric rise will lead to more Canadians seeking out its power bowls and smoothies.
“It’s just been really amazing to see how quickly she’s risen and how much exposure she’s gotten so quickly," Copper Branch’s marketing director Andrew Infantino said in an interview. “It’s definitely been more positive than we could have imagined.”
Copper Branch – which has more than 65 locations, most of them in Canada – first connected with Ms. Andreescu through her agency, Octagon. The restaurant chain wanted to partner with a Canadian athlete who could represent its health-focused brand, and Ms. Andreescu fit the bill. The company recorded an inspirational commercial with the young athlete devouring its Aztec bowl and is currently looking at other ways to make her image more prevalent in its restaurants.
“For us, relating to athletic performance and the extraordinary accomplishments of athletes and high performance is really an important part of our branding," Mr. Infantino said.
It will be some time before Ms. Andreescu is earning anything close to her opponent. Ms. Williams, 37, will earn US$25-million from off-the-court endorsement deals this year, according to Forbes. Her long list of sponsors includes Gatorade, JPMorgan Chase and Wilson Sporting Goods.
It’s not clear what Ms. Andreescu is earning from her endorsements. Her stable includes BMW Canada and Nike Inc., but is expected to get bigger, says David Soberman, a professor of marketing at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
“She was always a player with a lot of promise, but nobody could have imagined that she’s be in the finals of the U.S. Open,” Prof. Soberman said. “Any time you sponsor an athlete, it’s a gamble."
Contracts are generally exclusive by category, so it’s likely that Ms. Andreescu can’t sign another restaurant, apparel company or automaker, but her rise to superstardom is likely to attract offers in other categories such as beverages or food products, Mr. Soberman added.
Brands that Canadians have a strong connection to – such as Canadian Tire, Tim Hortons or the big banks – are also likely to be interested, said Cary Kaplan, president of Cosmos Sports & Entertainment, a sports marketing agency.
“She talks about being Canadian all the time,” Mr. Kaplan said. “She talked about how it was a dream to win the Rogers Cup. I think if you’re growing up in the states or Europe, you might dream of Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. But winning a tournament on Canadian soil was not just something she did, but something she said she always dreamed of – people really appreciate that.”
Her Canadian pride is particularly poignant after Kawhi Leonard’s decision to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers after leading the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA championship win, Mr. Kaplan said.
And her humility and sportsmanship – exemplified by the hug she shared with Serena Williams after Ms. Williams was forced to withdraw from the Rogers Cup owing to a back injury – make her the kind of athlete that brands will want to associate themselves with, Mr. Kaplan said.
“She brings a really Canadian personality,” Mr. Kaplan said. “She’s very humble. … And she’s very respectful of the sport of tennis. She appreciates what someone like Serena Williams has done in her career, and that’s very endearing.”
In another bit of prescient marketing, BMW signed Ms. Andreescu as a spokeswoman in June, prior to her win at the Rogers Cup and U.S. Open. The deal is part of BMW’s three-year sponsorship of Tennis Canada, and is driven by the expectation that a new generation of Canadian players will captivate the public for years to come.
“The choice to focus in on the highest performing young athletes has resulted in some phenomenal results. The game has never been hotter in Canada,” BMW spokesman Marc Belcourt said.
As BMW’s brand ambassador, Ms. Andreescu appears on social-media channels and is expected to make in-person appearances for the automaker. She’s currently driving a BMW X5 sport-utility vehicle – its base price is $76,000 – as part of the endorsement deal, but Mr. Belcourt said the automaker expects it will soon be upgrading her ride.
Meanwhile, Copper Branch is keen to renew its one-year contract with Ms. Andreescu for the long term, but it may have to give her a big raise.
“She’s doing incredibly well, so I’m sure she would demand a higher amount," Mr. Kaplan said.