Rafael Nadal’s five-set win over Taylor Fritz at Wimbledon was one of the most exciting tennis matches of the year, a showcase for one of the greatest players of all time and America’s hottest challenger.
But television cameras kept cropping out of the on-pitch drama to gauge the reactions of Morgan Riddle, Fritz’s girlfriend of more than two years. During the game, she added 30,000 Instagram followers.
“In London, Wimbledon is huge. It’s the biggest event of the year,” Riddle said earlier this month in a Zoom interview from a friend’s apartment in New York, where the US Open begins on Monday. “But that particular game was also in prime time in the US, so a lot of people who don’t usually watch tennis on TV were watching.”
Born in St. Paul, he doesn’t mind the attention. In fact, she’s counting on it.
Riddle, 25, is among a growing number of social media influencers whose success depends on notoriety and likeability. Her makeup tips and wardrobe choices can lead to big sales.
According to Influencer Marketing Hub, a private media company based in Denmark, the influencer marketing industry will be worth $16.4 billion by 2022, which explains why 75% of brand marketers plan to do at least part of it this year to spend their budget on figures like Riddle.
“The younger generation is typically very skeptical about traditional mass media and advertising,” said Hye-Young Kim, professor and director of the Center for Retail Design and Innovation at the University of Minnesota. “It explains why so many big brands and luxury brands are turning to social media.”
According to Christine Scherping, senior vice president at Maccabee Public Relations in Minneapolis, Riddle has an 11% engagement rate, an impressive number considering most experts say 2% is acceptable. However, she expressed concern about Riddle’s 64% credibility rating, a rating that suggests she may be over-reliing on bot followers.
If Riddle were her client, Scherping said she would advise her to focus more on tennis.
“People love behind-the-scenes content,” said Scherping, who also founded Friend of a Friend PR. “Don’t just show them pretty photos. Show them the honest world.”
As it turns out, that’s exactly Riddle’s plan.
Tennis wasn’t part of her childhood in St. Paul. She grew up in a hockey family. Her father, Rob Kimm, wrote two books on musk fish.
But she showed early signs of being an extrovert.
At the age of 4, she asked her parents for camera equipment. Around the same age, she also announced that she wanted to wear dresses decorated with flowers.
“She had very strong feelings about it,” said mother Heather Riddle, Minnesota Public Radio’s senior vice president and chief development officer. “She was so small it was difficult to find her size, so I ended up buying a sewing machine and sewing clothes for her. I sewed a lot to achieve her fashion goals.”
But young Riddle was also beginning to develop a business acumen. Beginning at age 14, she began working at Cindy’s Cinnamon Roasted Nuts at the Minnesota State Fair, logging 12-hour days for 12 consecutive days.
“It definitely built character,” Riddle said.
After attending Wagner College in Staten Island, she began gaining corporate experience, including as media director for Love Your Melon, the hat company that donates 50% of its profits to organizations fighting childhood cancer. She was also the media director at Gamers Outreach, a nonprofit organization that provides video games to hospital families.
Although Riddle had built a strong online following, she resisted the idea of becoming a full-time influencer.
“There have been so many instances of people at work saying, ‘Oh, are you a model? Are you an Instagram influencer?’ and I would say, ‘No, I’m a media director,'” she said. “You could see that visual relief coming over their bodies, like, ‘Oh, she’s a normal person with a normal career. She’s a respectful one Person.'”
Her perspective began to change two years ago, shortly after she met Fritz through a dating app in Los Angeles.
Part of her role ever since has been being her boyfriend’s main cheerleader. Fritz, who is currently ranked 12th in the world, has said he plays better when she’s in the stands.
“Part of it might be because we joke about it and eventually started believing it,” Fritz said in an email. “But I feel like she’s helping me keep a proper schedule and making me accountable for staying on track professionally.”
She also discovered that followers were interested in videos that helped explain a world that was foreign to her. Their videos offer everything from an analysis of the Association of Tennis Professionals’ ranking system to a glimpse into tournament gift suites. A TikTok video titled “On a Personal Mission to Make Tennis Cool Again” has been viewed more than 4 million times.
Earlier this year, she decided to become a full-time influencer.
“There are so many negative connotations. But who cares?” said Riddle, who is on track to earn six figures this year, mostly from brands willing to pay her for endorsements. She plans to post videos regularly during the US Open, especially when Fritz is putting on a strong performance. “I’m making way more money than I ever have in my corporate positions. I work in my free time and am much happier. Fuck what people think about it.”
Fritz believes his girlfriend can be an important ambassador for the game.
“She’s able to reach a large audience of people who aren’t already tennis fans,” he wrote. “Social media can play a very big role in creating more interest in the sport.”
There’s just one more step she might want to consider.
“Naomi Osaka sent me a racquet yesterday,” Riddle said, referring to the two-time US Open and two-time Australian Open champion. “I should probably learn how to play now.”