Court Report: Roger Federer focused on Laver Cup
Roger Federer’s agent, Tony Godsick, sat down with TENNIS.com to talk about his most famous client, their Team8 agency and the Laver Cup—an annual team event they started, which is being played for the second time this week in Chicago.
[This interview has been slightly adjusted for structure and length.]
What’s it like being Roger Federer’s agent?
It’s great. I’ve managed him now for years and had a front row seat to history. But it’s also working with a great person who participates in this business, is really a kind person and generally thinks about other people first. [He] loves to communicate, which makes my job as his agent a lot easier. [He’s] got a great family. It’s been incredible.
I think there’s a lot of agents who feel like they created the player, or something, and I fully realize that I’m very lucky. I don’t know how much I’ve added to his career, but I know I haven’t hurt his career. And so for that part, I feel great.
As good a tennis player as he is, he’s a better person, and I get to see a lot more than the average fan gets to see of him. All the stuff he does with his foundation—there’s a lot of foundations, they do it for their image. I sit on the board of his foundation, and it’s really interesting to see how engaged he is, and the amount he cares. By this year, he’ll have given away $50 million.
It’s those things I feel proud of, being associated with him.
What’s your favorite thing about the job, and what’s the toughest thing?
One of my favorite things is Switzerland—I love the country. I go there 10 times a year, I’ve been there with my family quite a bit. It’s one of the most miraculous countries in the world. One day you can be on the lake, the next day you’re skiing. And you’re doing it all with very efficient transportation. The people are great.
Obviously him being so nice, and he’s got a big family too. I’ve got to see his girls, growing up, and now his boys grow up, and interact with Mirka. A lot of people give me a lot of credit for his business success, and he’s very much an on court part of it, off court too—but Mirka is a huge part of what we do.
He’s got great parents. He’s got great friends too, that I’ve become friends with. So the human side, that’s the best part.
The toughest part about it is the guy has the most incredible endurance. He moves around the world, his business is around the world, his tennis is around the world. And trying to keep up with him—I usually start my mornings at 4:30 am, because a lot of his business is in Europe.
I don’t travel with him to all the tournaments—the majors, a few others — but trying to keep with his schedule is a challenge. But I welcome that challenge.
While you’ve been working with him, he’s become one of the biggest names in sports. What have been the biggest changes?
It’s just a little bit harder for him to move around. We started in 2005, he could go into a restaurant—maybe every two or three people recognize him. Now everybody recognizes him. Although he does have security from time to time, he does really like to be independent.
He’s the same person. Fame hasn’t changed him, his success hasn’t changed him, family hasn’t changed him. Maybe family has made him more patient, if that’s possible.
I think that’s what people really like about him, why he has so many fans, is because the person they knew back in the day is the person they know today. And I think at this point if it was not real, you would know.
And the thing is, he still loves to play tennis. He still gets excited to practice, he still gets excited [at] what the juniors are doing, he’s still excited to watch women’s tennis, men’s tennis, at Grand Slams. He keeps up with it.
But I think the thing that’s changed the most is he’s got four kids. None of his competitors have a family that big, and he’s been able to still excel. And for that I really marvel at the way he and Mirka have managed it all.
You said you think he’ll be even ‘bigger’ when he isn’t playing. What you mean by that?
I just think he’ll be more successful. I’ve had the great opportunity to sit in meetings with him many times. He is strategically brilliant. He can take something very complex, listen to other people, and to process it and come up with a very thoughtful, simple answer that seems to generally make sense. Those are qualities very few people have.
He’ll be successful whatever he tries to do, whether it’s his foundation, whether it’s running an organization or just being the local leader at his kids’s school, because he just has this incredible ability to interact with people. And people haven’t really got a chance to interact with Roger, because even though he’s approachable—maybe more approachable than any player in history—he’s also pretty reserved. But I think as his career slows down and he has an opportunity to be part of different events, he’s going to meet people, interact with more people. And, I think he’ll have the opportunity to do things he probably never imagined.
His sponsorships have been in the news a lot with the switch to Uniqlo. What are your positions with his shoes, “RF” logo, etc.?
The shoes, we’re in discussions with a lot of companies. There’s no rush to get into anything. We’re taking a long-term approach.
There’s been enough on the logo that’s been in the press that’s accurate. [Federer’s former clothing sponsor, Nike, currently holds the “RF” logo.] The logo belongs to Roger. The hope is at the appropriate time, it goes back to Roger. I absolutely tell people, keep wearing it.
At some point, you have enough original partners. He’s got a lot on his plate. We just announced with Rimowa, a luxury suitcase brand.
In addition to Roger, you’ve also started representing other athletes. What was the thinking behind that and what’s it been like?
I worked for a big company for almost 20 years. I loved it, learned a lot of things from some really smart, talented people. I just felt the company started to get bigger and bigger, and I was never going to be the owner of the company. I’ve always been very entrepreneurial. That’s the way I’ve always thought about business. I wanted to do something smaller and with a smaller group of people, and do something with Roger.
I can look back now and say, yeah, I made the right decision. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I doesn’t mean I wasn’t happy then, but it’s different. I don’t want to have to run everything through a whole bunch of people. I wanted to own something. I wanted to create something with people I wanted to be around every single day, and that’s what I’ve been able to do.
We can make our own decisions, we can be very creative, we can go into lines of business that I could never go in if I worked for another different company. So it’s been great.
We also represent Juan Martin del Potro, and [top junior] Cori Gauff. At some point, we’re going to be representing a golfer. We represent Henrik Lundqvist, a goalie for the New York Rangers. We’ll look to sign another two or three tennis players in the next 12 months.
We don’t really want to sign one and then sign another one, like some other companies. We really want to be strategic. We want to manage superstars, [and] we can afford to be selective because we have other lines of business that we’re doing and we’re going to do.
What are your plans?
Lots of plans. We just announced we’ve invested in UTR [Universal Tennis Rating]. Larry Ellison has also invested in them.
There’s another thing we looked at as an investment that’s going to help grow tennis. We’re looking to do that not just in tennis, but other sports.
I can see us owning a huge tennis event at some sport. Consulting. We’re going to try to work strategically.
Court Report: Novak Djokovic to join Federer in Laver Cup
You’ve also started a new event, the Laver Cup. What was involved in all of that?
I don’t think it’s a secret at this point, but three years ago, we were coming back from an event in Shanghai and Rod Laver was there. On our way back in the car, Roger said, ‘We’ve got to do something to honor Rod Laver. Let’s do an endorsement deal or something. This guy, he won 200 titles. And I make more money in a one-night exo than he did in his entire career. Can you imagine you telling me to take four and a half years off playing Grand Slams—20-plus years Grand Slams to usher in the professional game?This is what this guy did, and his peers—it’s not just Rod.’
So we went on our way to create something innovative, that the sport hasn’t seen before. And I think it exceeded our expectations. The whole goal was to create something to honor Rod, and the players [of that era]. And what’s great about this event is we’re created a platform to see an innovative style of tennis—not country versus country, but region versus region. For three days, it moves along, with best two out of three sets, and third set being a 10-point tiebreaker.
[It] honors Rod Laver; we’ve got two historic captains—John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg—along with current superstars and young players. So we’ve got every generation.
The whole essence was, let’s do something you don’t see anywhere else, so rivals become teammates. [In 2017], the thing that was so exciting was Rafa and Roger playing doubles. These are two stars. You never will see the stars together, because most of the time in countries, you have one star, if that, and four others. This is an opportunity for them to play together, you get combinations that you don’t see [otherwise].
A lot of people say it’s in competition with the Davis Cup. I laugh, it’s completely different, there’s nothing similar. It’s just three days.
What’s the goal, what do you want to do with it?
Create a long-lasting event that’s part of the vernacular of tennis, that honors the greatest player of all time, I think—Rod Laver—that showcases men’s tennis.
We are not building this event to make money today, that’s not the goal. The goal is to create an event that everybody’s excited to play, that people and fans look forward to seeing each and every year. And if you build that, and you do it correctly, you will be profitable.
Every single person who is involved with Laver Cup from an ownership standpoint (Tennis Australia, USTA, Team8, Jorge Paulo Lemann) cares about the sport of tennis. A lot of people don’t know this, but when Roger and my partners came up with this idea, I went and talked to all four of the Grand Slams. My original thought was, let’s run this at the four Grand Slam sites. It’s criminal, they’re just used a couple of weeks a year.
I also talked to the ITF, ATP. We want the whole sport of tennis involved with it.