Personal Branding In The World Of Tennis: The Case Study Of The Big Four - UBITENNIS
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Personal Branding In The World Of Tennis: The Case Study Of The Big Four

How did Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray build their own brands?

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Sportsmen have always had passionate and devoted fans, but becoming more visible implies the development of one’s own personal branding – but what is it? It is the practice of actively positioning oneself in the market and building a “valuable narrative”, creating a brand, a mark or a “mnemonic” to support this message, association, expectation and/or “faith” in the mind of a “consumer” (or enthusiast, team, sponsor, etc).

The term “personal branding” was coined by Tom Peters, a business management expert, in the late 1990s, in his essay “The Brand Called You”, which examines the role of marketing in creating a distinctive image in the American corporate world. Although that essay is over 20 years old, its contents are even more relevant in today’s hyper-saturated, hyper-competitive and hyper-connected world,   in which differentiation strategies are becoming increasingly complex. The sports market is in fact characterised by a high degree of complexity as it encompasses a multitude of actors, each of them with certain characteristics and interests.

Following the categorization of sports marketing, personal branding can be understood as being incorporated into the marketing of individual athletes, and as a   branch of sports marketing.

Initially, sports marketing exclusively pertained product placement and product sales. Only towards the end of the 1970s did the use of sports as a marketing tool    really begin to catch the collective corporate imagination. However, a distinction must be made between sports sponsorship – which mainly concerns brand awareness – and sports marketing, which focuses on the creation of sponsorship contracts. Personal branding is about creating a connection between the sports icon and the  brand, then communicating it to the consumer, trying to find as many points in common between the company’s history and that of the icon in order to create a “narrative” that has to be understandable and appreciated by the consumer. The increasing popularity of sports and the resulting media coverage meant that the  best players were able to capture the hearts and minds of the public, thus starting to transcend their own discipline. Interestingly, companies don’t just look at investment return in money terms, their primary aim being to create emotional bonds with consumers. Sports marketing is now based on creating passion for the consumer and gaining their hearts and minds, an outcome that advertising campaigns alone are not always able to achieve.

THE NIKE-JORDAN PARTNERSHIP MARKS A WATERSHED MOMENT

An experience that has certainly changed sports marketing has involved basketball icon Michael Jordan, who, signed to the sports giant Nike, has become so important that it is felt by consumers as being a different branch, separated from the Oregon company. We often hear “these shoes are Jordans”, or “this shirt is a Jordan”, completely omitting the fact that the full brand is “Nike Jordan”. On this account, at the end of 1997 the Portland company realised that the “Jordan” brand was so strong it could become a sub-brand of Nike, and that   was how “The Jordan Brand” was born. To celebrate this, the first AIR model was released: the “AIR Jordan XIII”. From then on, Jordan shoes no longer sported Nike’s swoosh but only the “Jumpman” logo.

Back to the world of tennis and some years earlier, the first successful brands were  those of ex-players such as Lacoste, Perry and Tacchini, who gave life to important companies selling sports clothing and accessories, entrepreneurial initiatives that leveraged specific marketing tools for sports equipment and clothing.

All these entrepreneurial cases have one thing in common: the establishment of the production and marketing companies took place after the specific tennis player  had ended his sports career, exploiting – in the case of Lacoste and Perry – a fame already acquired, but limited only to enthusiasts of the game. These brands, although no longer dominant, are still present on the market today. Lacoste can still boast the sponsorship of three WTA and five ATP players in the Top  50 of their respective rankings, including recent Australian Open finalists Djokovic and Medvedev. Fred Perry resurfaced in 2009 as a sponsor of Andy Murray’s, and has been organising  a major youth tournament in the UK since 2019. Sergio Tacchini has recently reappeared as a technical sponsor, after having been the dominating force in tennis merchandising during the 1980s – as for Lacoste and Fred Perry, we are talking about brands which are strongly linked to their national context.

THE CURRENT SITUATION IN TENNIS ENDORSEMENTS

Even today, the largest number of sponsorships of a tennis player concerns sports clothing and accessories:

Figure 1 – Sponsorships of professional tennis players by product sector in July 2019 – Statista (click to enlarge)

The distribution of the brands has changed, however, as can be seen when looking at the Top 30 on both the WTA and ATP tours.

Figure 2 – Source: scoreandchange.com – March 2020 (click to enlarge)

So, what has changed? The context variables (external and internal) are simply different, and there is a greater awareness on the part of successful athletes about the value of their image. The external environment is made of factors apparently furthest away from the endorsing company, including technologies, demographics and social trends, economic issues, politics, laws, concepts of environmental sustainability. The internal environment consists in variables such as: resources, skills, the ability to  provide services, customer-oriented culture, performance of departments, suppliers and outsourcing, sponsorships, marketing channels (sales outlets, financial companies, communication) and the role of the general public. These variables converge in the SWOT matrix (Strength-Weakness-Opportunities-Threats), which in turn flows into the marketing plans, allowing experts to mitigate risks, improve process efficiency and the decisional effectiveness of the marketing activities.

Advertising and marketing strategies have evolved over the past 30 years, and no tactics    that companies and organisations use to get the consumers’ attention has undergone more transformations than sports endorsing. In the past decades, advertising executives could buy large amounts of advertising space on television networks and “bomb” viewers with ads. The formula was simple: whoever spent the most, won. Today, however, as consumers watch less television and the selection of viewing options has increased exponentially, brands are forced to diversify and invest money to find new ways to engage potential customers. It took years of low incomes to realise that simply paying for your logo to appear alongside that of a professional sports team, buying TV commercials or advertising in stadiums during matches no longer provided the same profit it used to.

So, if the notion of getting a high return on investment from traditional advertising campaigns is almost dead, how can companies achieve success for their brands in terms of consumers’ appreciation? They need to leverage customer passions and promote brand relationships: collaborations today aim to improve the experience of the consumer or enthusiast and are based on building relevant connection points between the customer, the athlete and the corporate brand he/she represents.

Today we are witnessing a proliferation of personal brands, such as those listed below. Normally they are sub-brands, with some exceptions like that of Roger Federer, able to buy back his “RF” logo after a long legal battle with Nike. Self-referencing brands are just the tip of an iceberg in a brand-building strategy to obtain a long and successful career outside of sports. Even after an athlete’s sporting career is over, many carry their personal brand with them, just like Michael Jordan.

STRATEGIES

The distance between sports fans and champions has diminished, as social media and the web contribute to create emotional involvement and loyalty, together with traditional channels. Some general rules can be identified in the construction of a  strong brand identity:

  1.  Create coherence between the personality and the values of the athlete and his/her personal brand. It’s important to create a personal story that puts the athlete under an authentic light, which is not too far from his true character. There is no need to create a discrepancy between your real story and the image you intend to communicate externally. So, you must always check that the personal narrative is aligned with the core of the person.
  2.  Promotion of philanthropic causes. Showing of the  selflessness of sportsmen is manifested in causes where there are strong inequalities. Athletes who sincerely try to help solve even a small problem will not only be invested with the merits of positivity in solving the problem but will also benefit from a significant impact on their personal brand’s value and positioning.
  3.  Control of one’s own personal branding in detail. Keeping control of even the smallest    detail makes it possible to think of forming really interesting PR strategies for brand development that can target narrow segments of professionals, whilst ordinary fans may not even be aware of it.
  4. Select appropriate tools apt to interact with each of the important segments of the target audience. In most cases, when building athletes’ brands, one opts to use only a standard set of channels and tools. Today it is enough to take your personal brand to the top, as in reality no one is trying to achieve more in the sport, but in the near future this will not be enough anymore, given the enormous competitive pressures. Therefore, it is necessary to invest 80% more to obtain a substantial 100%. The world around us  is developing fast, and athletes have to work hard to stay in the conversation.
  5.  Each action must be framed within the context of the positioning of the personal brand. An athlete who has global visibility must pay attention to all personal actions, as this is  relevant to the positioning of his brand, built around his personality and individual beliefs.

THE PERSONAL BRANDS OF PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYERS

In order to find the aforementioned characteristics, a small empirical research was conducted on the personal sites and philanthropic initiatives of the so called “Fab Four”. Their sales in relation to their foundations or academies are summarized below:

Although Sir Andrew Barron Murray does not have a foundation or a clothing collection with his personal brand, he is involved in several philanthropic initiatives. Both Murray and Djokovic have personal pages on Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site, which is in fact a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, and is one of the most popular sites in China. Djokovic’s numerical approach to social media is also very original, given that his site has a counter that adds up all his fans interactions scattered across the various social media channels, reporting the latest tweets.

Nadal’s conception of the relationship with his fans is instead more traditional: it includes a sort of virtual bulletin board with many pictures taken in the company of  his devoted followers. Federer moves along similar lines, using the classic channels, namely Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, with a gallery of historical photos of the matches played in his professional seasons. Moreover, the fact that other tennis players such as Stan Wawrinka, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Marco Cecchinato, and more recently Jannik Sinner have chosen to create their personal brands, with the aim of improving their communication and marketing strategy, needs also to be remarked.

CONCLUSIONS

Why is personal branding becoming more and more common? If we look at those who already have a brand, the answer is closely linked to the business of professional sport, and is simply the ability of an athlete to generate a return from their image. Analysing the concept with a critical spirit and keeping in mind the goal  of maximising incomes for a sportsman during his or her short career, there are three basic reasons for building a “personal sports brand”:

  • Effectiveness
  • Relevance of their Image, which triggers the Fear of losing it
  • Level of importance, which will change throughout a professional athlete’s career span.

In the beginning or mid-career, a personal brand or a support logo are forms of efficient involvement of sponsoring companies, because they indicate the values that an athlete possesses and that a brand could exploit via an endorsement. As the  athlete heads towards the twilight of his professional career, the motivation becomes fear and relevance or, more precisely, the fear of not being relevant anymore. The skills of a professional athlete will naturally establish a certain positioning in the minds of the stakeholders, but an active cure of a market position derived from this ability is a strategic undertaking that requires not only a change in the mentality of an individual, but, above all, a shift in managerial culture to encourage athletes to think long-term and beyond the immediacy of their physical ability.

Cultivating the mental and physical well-being of a professional sportsman is the job  of a manager or a coach, but when it comes to thinking ahead, many athletes are woefully unprepared. A retired athlete will come from a world where everything revolves around him and will land on another where he quickly loses the spotlight.

Therefore, strong brand recognition will generate opportunities for athletes throughout their careers, and once they stop playing the game, the effectiveness with which they have defined, positioned and built their image and values will have  an impact on their future after tennis. If they postpone the aforementioned definition of their brand for too long, the lack of relevance they fear so much will undermine the value they offer to society, in which standing out requires far more than a logo.

Article by Andrea Canella; translated by Alessandro Valentini; edited by Tommaso Villa

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(VIDEO) Steve Flink, Ubaldo On The Wimbledon Women’s Final: ‘The Better Player Won But Did Inexperience Play A Part?’

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Image via https://x.com/WTA

Hall of Famer Steve Flink joins Ubitennis to analyse the Wimbledon women’s final after Barbora Krejcikova beat Jasmine Paolini in three sets.

The Czech held her nerve to clinch only her second win over a top 10 player this year and follow in the footsteps of her late mentor Jana Novotna. It is only the second Grand Slam title Krejcikova has won and her first since the 2021 French Open.

Meanwhile, Paolini can still draw positives from what is a stellar season for her. She is projected to rise to a ranking high of No.5 on Monday as a result of her latest run. However, did inexperience cost her in today’s final? 

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Wimbledon Daily Preview: Jasmine Paolini Plays Barbora Krejcikova for the Ladies’ Singles Championship

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Jasmine Paolini after winning her semifinal on Thursday (twitter.com/wimbledon)

Day 13 at The Championships hosts the championship matches in ladies’ singles, ladies’ doubles, and gentlemen’s doubles.

It’s cliché, and usually untrue, to say “No one expected these two finalists.”  But in this case, it is absolutely true.  Prior to this fortnight, Jasmine Paolini had never won a match at The Championships.  And Barbora Krejcikova arrived at SW19 with a losing record on the year.  Yet both will play in their second Major singles final on Saturday, after inspired play during this tournament.


Barbora Krejcikova (31) vs. Jasmine Paolini (7) – 2:00pm on Centre Court

After failing to advance beyond the second round in her first 16 appearances at Majors, Paolini is now 15-2 in her last three, and is the first WTA player to reach the final of both Roland Garros and Wimbledon since Serena Williams in 2016.  Jasmine is 30-12 on the year, and has won 14 of her last 16 matches.  She has been taken to three sets twice during this event, most recently outlasting Donna Vekic in a third-set tiebreak during Thursday’s semifinals.

Krejcikova has also required three sets in two of her six matches to this stage, upsetting 2022 champion Elena Rybakina in the semis.  That was the third win in a row for Barbora over a higher-seed, after ousting two other big hitters, Danielle Collins and Jelena Ostapenko.  She’s accomplished all this despite being just 7-9 this season before this tournament began.  Injuries have plagued her career since her 2021 Roland Garros singles title, including a back injury earlier this year. 

Paolini is 2-4 lifetime in singles finals at WTA level, while Krejcikova is 7-5.  However, when you consider their appearances in Major finals between singles and doubles, Paolini is 0-2, having lost both the women’s singles and doubles finals last month in Paris, while Krejcikova is an amazing 11-1.  That’s a huge contrast in success at Grand Slam level.

These players also possess contrasting styles.  Paolini has been crushing her forehand, using it to come forward and show off her great hands at the net.  Krejcikova has a good serve, as well as both power and guile on her groundstrokes.  She loves using her slice to keep her opponents off-balance.  However, that will be more difficult to do against such a great mover like Jasmine.  And Barbora’s forehand has become unreliable in some crucial moments during this fortnight, which the Italian can target.

But on this surface, and considering her history in Major finals, I give the edge to Krejcikova to win her second Major singles title.  Plus, Barbora has already won two ladies’ doubles titles on this same court.  And she would surely cherish the chance to honor her late coach and mentor Jana Novotna by holding the Venus Rosewater Dish aloft on Centre Court, just as Jana did in 1998.


Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson (15) vs. Harri Heliovaara and Henry Patten – This is a fourth Major final in men’s doubles for Purcell, who won this title two years ago alongside another Aussie, Matthew Ebden.  Thompson had never advanced beyond the fourth round of a Major in either men’s singles or doubles until this run.  Patten is also a Major final debutante, while Heliovaara won last year’s US Open in mixed doubles.

Katerina Siniakova and Taylor Townsend (4) vs. Gabriela Dabrowski and Erin Routliffe (2) – Siniakova is playing for the ninth Major title in women’s doubles, while Townsend is playing for her first, after going 0-2 in previous finals.  Dabrowski and Routliffe are the reigning US Open champions, and Routliffe will become the new World No.1 in women’s doubles on Monday, regardless of Saturday’s result.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Wimbledon Daily Preview: Alcaraz and Medvedev Collide in a Semifinal Rematch

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Carlos Alcaraz earlier this week (twitter.com/wimbledon)

Day 12 at The Championships hosts the gentlemen’s singles semifinals, as well as the semifinals in both ladies’ and mixed doubles.

We are just one match away from a highly-anticipated rematch of last year’s epic gentlemen’s singles final between Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz.  However, just as he did last summer at the US Open, Daniil Medvedev is eager to spoil the party, and defeat Alcaraz in another Major semifinal.  Plus, Djokovic needs to overcome 22-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti, who owns a victory over Novak.


Daniil Medvedev (5) vs. Carlos Alcaraz (3) – 1:30pm on Centre Court

Alcaraz leads their head-to-head 4-2, with three of those victories coming on hard courts, Medvedev’s preferred surface.  They’ve twice before played at this tournament, and they split those meetings.  Medvedev won in straights three years ago in the second round, while Alcaraz won in straights last year in this same round.  And since Daniil defeated Carlitos in four sets last September in New York, Alcaraz has beaten him twice in straights, including a few months ago in the Indian Wells final.

A year after last year’s one-sided semifinal between these same two players, Medvedev appears much more comfortable on grass, and willing to be more aggressive and vary his return position against Alcaraz.  Many of Carlitos’ victories over Daniil have been a result of Medvedev returning serve from way back in the court, allowing Alcaraz to come forward and dictate play, as well as use his beloved drop shot.  But Daniil has recently moved forward and played more offensively, not only against Carlitos, but also against Jannik Sinner, as we saw in the last round.

And Alcaraz has appeared quite vulnerable throughout this fortnight, dropping at least one set in each of his last three matches, all of which featured stints of sloppy play from the defending champion.  Yet as he usually does, Carlitos has created some magic in big moments, including during a come-from-behind victory over Frances Tiafoe in five sets.  And as improved as Medvedev is on grass, this surface still favors the power and variety of Alcaraz.  Carlitos is the favorite to prevail in what should be a contest full of dynamic rallies.


Lorenzo Musetti (25) vs. Novak Djokovic (2) – Second on Centre Court

Musetti’s victory over Djokovic came a year ago on clay in Monte Carlo, in a three-hour three-setter.  The Italian also had the all-time great on the ropes during their first clash at the 2021 French Open, when Lorenzo won the first two sets in tiebreaks, before wilting and losing the next three 6-1, 6-0, 4-0, as a depleted Musetti would retire and be unable to even finish the match. 

Their most recent encounter was also a Roland Garros five-setter.  Just a month ago in Paris, Djokovic again came from behind to defeat Musetti in five, with the last two sets featuring lopsided scores of 6-3 and 6-0.  Overall Novak has claimed five of their six matches.

Lorenzo’s lasting power on Friday will not be aided by a draining five-set win on Wednesday against Taylor Fritz.  By contrast, Djokovic did not play at all on Wednesday, as Alex de Minaur withdrew from their quarterfinal due to injury.  Normally such an interruption to a player’s schedule late in a big event can negatively impact their rhythm.  But Novak is now a 49-time Major semifinalist, so there’s not much he’s unprepared for at this stage of his illustrious career.  And his recently surgically-repaired knee likely didn’t mind the extra rest and recovery time.

And Novak’s record across the past decade in Major semifinals is mind-boggling: since the 2015 Australian Open, he is 22-2.  At Wimbledon specifically, Djokovic hasn’t lost a semifinal since 2012, having won his last eight.  Against an opponent making his Major semifinal debut, Novak is a considerable favorite, even if his knee is still far from 100%.


Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Su-wei Hsieh and Elise Mertens (1) vs. Katerina Siniakova and Taylor Townsend (4) – Su-wei and Mertens crushed Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula in the last round, as each looks to become a ladies’ doubles finalist in all four of their latest appearances at The Championships.  Hsieh will also play in the mixed doubles semifinals later in the day.  Siniakova is an eight-time Major champion in women’s doubles, while Townsend is a two-time finalist. 

Caroline Dolehide and Desirae Krawczyk (7) vs. Gabriela Dabrowski and Erin Routliffe (2) – Dolehide was a surprising finalist in singles at last fall’s WTA 1000 event in Guadalajara, but is 0-5 in women’s doubles semifinals at Majors.  Krawczyk is a four-time Major champ in mixed doubles, with two of those wins coming at Wimbledon.  Dabrowski and Routliffe are the reigning US Open champions, and like Hsieh, Erin is also in the mixed doubles semis.


Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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