Things were remarkably different at Wimbledon last week when Roger Federer stepped onto centre court for his first appearance of the tournament, surprising us all by wearing new sponsor Uniqlo.
Swapping his signature RF brandmark and ‘swoosh’ for the Uniqlo red squares in a lucrative deal said to be worth $300 million over a ten-year period and to continue after retirement ending his twenty-year role as Brand Ambassador for Nike.
Although Uniqlo have sponsored other high profile tennis players, and Federer has an endorsement portfolio that includes non-sporting brands, it still felt like an unlikely partnership, in particular for the branding of his on-court attire.
Maybe it feels so unlikely because we have become so accustomed to seeing the RF brand mark and the Federer-Nike all-white on-court fashion reveal at Wimbledon. It was always brand theatre playing out at its best and the fans loved it.
This new partnership does, however, raise some interesting questions. Does Uniqlo authentically represent brand Federer? Is this only about maxing Federer’s earnings? Is choosing a non-high-performance sporting brand the right message for his brand?
Brand Strategist, Peter Singline asks “For Uniqlo, it’s not a sports performance brand and is their motivation purely about brand exposure or is it trying to expand its target market reach into sports-mad fans?”
Tadashi Yanai, UNIQLO Founder, Chairman, President, and CEO said, “Mr. Federer is one of the greatest champions in history; my respect for him goes beyond sport. Our partnership will be about innovation on and off court. We share a goal of making positive change in the world, and I hope together we can bring the highest quality of life to the greatest number of people. UNIQLO will help Mr. Federer continue taking tennis to new places while exploring innovations in a number of areas including technology and design with him.”
Whilst Federer said, “I am deeply committed to tennis and to winning championships. But like UNIQLO, I also have a great love for life, culture and humanity. We share a strong passion to have a positive impact on the world around us and look forward to combining our creative endeavors.”
Uniqlo and Federer may believe it is a ‘match’ made in heaven, even if fans around the world think it is an unlikely partnership, whatever the motivation is, no brand spends 300 million without giving it considerable thought.