Lleyton Hewitt has never been afraid of cashing in on his fame — starring in a toilet paper ad shows a certain willingness to sell out — but charging fans to receive a text message of the name of your third child? It’s hard to tell in a murky business such as this one, but this could be a new low in the sordid, commercialisation of celebrity.

Last weekend, it was announced via a premium text messaging service that the former world No.1  had welcomed a third child — a bouncing baby girl — into the Hewitt clan. Details were limited, but tennis fans who were not already customers were encouraged to sign up to Text A Star for an exclusive SMS announcing the baby’s name.

The cost? Just $2 to be the first to know what would be scrawled on the birth certificate (Ava Sydney Hewitt for those playing at home).

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Hewitt, who is currently ranked 54 on the ATP tour, has been a member of Text A Star since Wimbledon this year. According to its website, Text A Star promise messages are “written and sent” by their stable of stars (primarily AFL players) and offer “a unique insight” into players’ lives “on and off the field”.

It’s unclear how much the Hewitts took home for the sale of their exclusive. According to Text A Star spokesperson Ryan Berman, “Text A Star and the players get the least amount” of the profits (with telcos earning the lion’s share).

Unsurprisingly, the Hewitts took a pasting from the media. Bec and Lleyton were “cashing in on baby Ava“, “exploiting their child and its right to privacy” and should “donate the money to charity”. Hewitt struck back on his website on Wednesday, when he fired a salvo at the media for placing “spin on reality by suggesting we have taken this approach just to make money”:

“Certain media people believe that are the only ones who should have an exclusive. In this instance we made a decision that my fans deserve to know first, and the general public second. That’s what we have done and just look at how many of the media have reported it.

I’ve always assured my fans that they’d  be the first to know on Text a Star and that’s why I am part of such a great program, as I can send it straight from my mobile directly to theirs.”

It’s a similar message from the company running the show. Text A Star proudly boasts its service is offered “without any media filter”, “cutting out the middle man”. Customers are assured constantly it is indeed their heroes texting through the “latest scoop” (which seem primarily to entail details of what footballers are eating for dinner).

But it’s hard to take Hewitt’s plea seriously when you consider it’s not the first time he has made a motza from his offspring. According to Crikey‘s chequebook journalism list, the pair received about $1 million from Woman’s Day for exclusive details of their wedding and the birth of their daughter Mia.

Premium SMS service such as Text A Star aren’t new, there a hundreds of operators offering sport, games and p-rn in return for a small fee per message. It’s believed Hewitt is the first to sell his baby’s name via the burgeoning industry. Will he be the last? C’mon, don’t be silly.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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