Isinbayeva agrees China sponsorship deal

BEIJING: Russian pole vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva agreed a sponsorship deal with Chinese sportswear firm Li Ning yesterday that state media said sets a new world mark for a track and field athlete.

Neither company officials nor Isinbayeva’s camp would disclose the terms of the deal, but the Chinese press put its value at a combined US$7.5mil over five years.

Isinbayeva, the world record-holder since July 2004 who has set a total of 26 best marks, said she hoped Li Ning’s support and a planned line of tailored gear would help her vault to greater heights.

“I am really looking forward to it. I’m sure it ... will help me set a lot of records,” she told a press conference at Li Ning headquarters outside Beijing.

The endorsement highlights the growing clout of Chinese companies in the world of athlete endorsements, with several top sporting stars recently signing lucrative deals in China.

Isinbayeva’s dazzling performance and appeal made her one of the shining stars at last year’s Beijing Olympics.

The Russian confirmed her status as history’s greatest female pole vaulter in Beijing by setting a new record as she defended her gold medal.

Her agent, Daniel Wessfeldt, indicated Li Ning’s offer trumped all others and it was hoped the deal would lead to further endorsements in China.

“This will open other doors in China,” he said.

While some struggling US corporations have dropped leading athletes from endorsement deals, China’s market has proven a bright spot for sponsorships, with companies shelling out big bucks here to top foreign names.

In perhaps the biggest deal, US swimming star Michael Phelps recently signed a sponsorship deal with Mazda to endorse the car company in China.

Although no figures have been announced, it was reported to be worth more than US$1mil, making it the biggest sponsorship deal for a foreigner in China at the time.

Last month, tennis star Jelena Jankovic signed a lucrative deal with Chinese firm ANTA Sports Products Limited.

Under the deal, the terms of which have been kept secret, the 23-year-old Serb’s on-court gear is being marketed as the “JJ” brand, which she exhibited for the first time in Melbourne last month at the Australian Open.


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