Bumping on Venice Beach, setting in Tenerife, blocking in Fort Lauderdale, celebrating on Copacabana: The beach volleyball life of Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst sounds gorgeous. The 30- and 25-year-old athletes from Germany (adoptive home Hamburg) are currently experiencing the bright side of life as the gold medal winners of Rio 2016, but their sports job is much more than just beach, sun, and balls.
Behind the Ludwig/Walkenhorst duo, which first came together three years ago, hides a cunning sports business strategy. Together, they make a yearly turnover in the mid-six figure euro range.
ISPO.com explains how the beach volleyball stars earn their money, who supports them, and what team stands behind them.
Andreas Scheuerpflug of the agency Vitesse-Kärcher used to be a successful beach volleyball player himself (5th place at the 2004 Olympics in Athens). The 49-year-old takes care of marketing the top German beach volleyball duo – now Scheuerpflug could get significantly more to do.
Over ten years ago, Laura Ludwig went directly from the high school desk to the professional existence. Officially, she has the status of “Student.”
The five-years-younger Walkenhorst has a secondary school certificate and is a soldier-athlete. As a lance corporal (pay bracket A 5), Walkenhorst earns about 2,500 euros gross per month.
As a member of the ElitePlus promotional program by the Deutsche Sporthilfe, Ludwig earns 1,500 euros monthly. “The ElitePlus promotional model is supposed to enable medal candidates who don’t have an alternative backup (e.g. as a member of the Bundeswehr’s sports funding group), studies or education notwithstanding, an optimal preparation for the Olympic Games,” is how it reads at Sporthilfe.
Medal winners at Rio 2016 don’t get rich in Germany. The rewards system of the Deutscher Olympischer Sportbund (DOSB, German Olympic Sports Confederation) is quite modest in international comparison. Gold winners get 20,000 euros.
Nevertheless, this arrangement only applies for individual athletes. How much Ludwig/Walkenhorst receive for their Rio triumph is not known. After all: The Olympic rewards aren’t disbursed all at once, but rather are distributed over twelve months.
Ludwig and Walkenhorst have been starting for the Hamburg SV (sports association) since 2013. For this, the players receive a monthly salary estimated at a three-figure euro amount.
Prior to the Olympic Games, the HSV offered a “Rio special promotion.” HSV Sports Chairman Dietmar Beiersdorfer even attended the Olympic beach volleyball final on site in Rio.
The beach volleyball players name three “gold partners” on their website: Capri Sun, Almased, and Smart. These three sponsors are present on the duo’s skimpy apparel.
The thickest contract came about in January 2016 with Almased: Ludwig and Walkenhorst signed on for a three-year contract with the diet-food manufacturer.
Sunglasses and sports goggles manufacturer Oakley supports the players as a “silver partner.”
Also highly important for the duo is outfitter Nike, which doesn’t just supply shirts, shorts, sports bras (see below), and shoes, but naturally also supports Ludwig and Walkenhorst financially.
The two also list the fitness and training analysis company Biomychanics as a secondary sponsor, which primarily supports them with non-cash benefits.
The total advertising value was thus far estimated to be 200,000 euros per year; after their Olympic gold, it could have at least doubled.
Cash prizes play a large role in the budget of pro beach volleyball players. A total of nine million dollars will be distributed at the 2016 FIVB World Tour, organized by the International Federation.
Ludwig and Walkenhorst brought in a cash prize of 60,000 dollar for their win at the World Tour final in Florida in October 2015 alone, while the Major Series win in Hamburg in June 2016 brought 50,350 euros.
The German duo has won seven times at 35 World Tour starts, and reached the Final Four 15 times – that adds up.
The cash prizes differ according to the classification of the tournament: Grand Slam (5 tournaments/800,000 dollar total cash prize), Major (4/800,000 dollars), and Open (13/150,000 dollars).
At the German Smart Beach Tour tournament series, that much can’t be earned by a long shot. The series’ total cash prize only amounted to 250,000 euros in 2015, plus two vehicles for the two champion teams.
At the Hamburg-based textile company Wizard, the beach volleyball duo arranged for a small merchandise store. There, five items can be purchased: caps for ten euros, up to shirts for 29 euros.
The resulting income for Ludwig and Walkenhorst could stay very reasonable – because they’ve never had a bigger set of fans.
The “Ludwig/Walkenhorst Me Incorporated,” as the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” calls the duo, achieves a yearly turnover in the mid-six figure range. Nevertheless, the beach volleyball players don’t just have to pay for their travel, meals, and accommodations, but also for that of their team:
In contrast to Germany’s 2012 Olympic champions Brink/Reckermann, Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst do not intend to retire young with the gold medal. The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo are their shared, long-term objective. “We’re more fit than ever before – it would dumb if we stopped,” thinks Ludwig.
After this career there will still be enough time to, like Reckermann, use the gold medal professionally as a TV expert and consultant.
Things are going splendidly for Ludwig and Walkenhorst right now – financially, as well