A typical Grand Slam tennis match is no longer just about the stroke and bounce, it’s also about branding. The last decade has been dominated with clothing proudly displaying swooshes (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams) and three striped sleeves (Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Caroline Wozniacki) as well as the odd double diamond. It’s been fairly predictable until now. There’s a new goup of fashion and lifestyle brands jumping onto court and they’re putting big money behind the players.
It was a bit of a surprise when Novak Djokovic signed with Japanese fast-fashion brand Uniqlo – a brand known more for its puffy jackets than its sports apparel. But it’s been a complete boon for the Asian company as the tennis player has introduced Uniqlo to a new market through his continued excellent performance.
Six months later, other high street retailers jumped on the bandwagon with Swedish company H&M announcing it had signed up Czech player Tomas Berdych to wear its first tennis line. The success of the partnership has resulted in H&M dressing the Swedish Olympic, Paralympic and Winter Olympic teams.
Next up was New Balance who signed young Canadian Milos Raonic to wear their gear and then UnderArmour who have had an ever increasing deal with Sloane Stephens – both future stars of the Grand Slam circuit. By getting in early these companies will have received excellent bang for their buck – that is, of course, assuming these new players perform up to expectation.
Tennis sponsorship has become a high risk game – a bit like gambling on Jackgold.com. Unlike sponsoring big teams, tennis sponsorship means relying on just one person versus a few potential stars in one team. But the rewards too are high. Thanks to strict laws on branding, only the sponsor’s logo is in sight.
It’s likely we will be seeing many more fast-fashion, high street brands on the court, eroding the market share of Nike and Adidas. It’s all a matter of forecasting at the moment for both players and brands. The rewards could be extremely high.
© photo credit: HEAD Tennis
At first glance, Andy Murray and Li Na may appear to have little in common. While they both play tennis and sit within the upper echelons of their sport, for example, they are also separated by vast geographical and cultural differences that are inescapable. Despite this, however, there is one other thing that unites them, as they both carry the hopes of an entire nation on their shoulders every time they step out onto the court. This is a great challenge with both players winning a Grand Slam title and in the case of Murray – two.
Li Na: Bridging the Gap between Western and Eastern Culture
While Li Na may not have reached the heights of Andy Murray or players like Serena Williams in the women’s game, however, she is arguably more influential than any other player in tennis. This is because her immense popularity has spread far beyond the passionate and dedicated fans in her homeland of China, and reached across into the depths of Western culture. By unifying fans across the globe with her talent, personality and Omni-present smile, she has emerged as an icon for an entire generation and bridged the considerable gap between Eastern and Western cultures.
This is no mean feat; even though Li Na is not the first sports start to transcend the reason for her fame. After all, the great Muhammed Ali achieved something similar when he fought George Foreman in Zaire, as his infectious personality and beaming smile won the hearts of African fans and an enthralled global audience. Modern sports stars such as David Beckham and Chris Hoy have also earned widespread global acclaim though the exploits, although Li Na is unique in that she has achieved this without reaching the pinnacle of her game.
The Last Word
In fact, it would be interesting to see how success affected Li Na’s global popularity and status as a multicultural icon. After all, anyone who purchased Wimbledon tickets this year and saw how German Sabine Lisicki was embraced by the British public will testify that the West loves nothing more than a courageous and charismatic underdog. This is undoubtedly a consideration for the future, however, and for now it must be enough to enjoy Li Na’s presence as someone who bridges a significant cultural gap and celebrate the purposefulness behind her smile.
Photo credit: globalite