It’s a rare sight in sports to see a top-ranked athlete without a big sponsor.
But that is just the unusual situation at the Australian Open, where Simona Halep, the No. 1-ranked woman on the pro tennis circuit, will be playing sans logos this coming week.
Last month, Halep announced in a somewhat cryptic Twitter post that her four-year deal with Adidas was coming to an end.
According to reports, she and the athletic brand were unable to come to terms on a renewal contract in time to meet Adidas’ 2018 budget. And so far, she has not secured another apparel/footwear sponsor. (Wilson is her partner for rackets and gear.)
During a practice session at the Australian Open on Jan. 12, for instance, she sported a burgundy tank top and black shorts with no logos, and a pair of white Adidas sneakers with tiny, almost-nonexistent Three Stripes on the midsole.
While this situation is undoubtedly stressful for Halep and disappointing for Adidas, it opens up an excellent opportunity for other brands in the tennis space.
The most likely candidate to snap up the Romanian star is Nike. Next to Adidas, it has the biggest pockets and the strongest reputation in the sport, plus it is in need of a new female ambassador. In recent years, the Swoosh has focused its marketing dollars around Serena Williams (who is not competing in Melbourne) and Maria Sharapova (whose reputation is still in rehab mode).
True, it does have Venus Williams on the roster, but securing the 26-year-old Halep would offer a fresh young face around which to build its tennis business for years to come.
Asics is another strong possible partner. The Japanese athletic firm has been showing an increasing willingness to shell out the necessary money to secure buzz-building ambassadors across sport and lifestyle (see, for instance, its recent deal with mega-DJ Steve Aoki).
And, most notable, earlier this week, the brand grabbed Novak Djokovic away from Adidas, so it could be in the market for a top-ranked woman to help it gain market share across the board.
But don’t count out K-Swiss, either. This past week, the heritage court label debuted a new performance tennis shoe, the Ultrashot, which is a harbinger of what’s to come for the brand.
Mike Miringoff, K-Swiss’ global director of tennis, told FN, “Performance will be a bigger focus for 2018. In 2017, we became the No. 4 tennis footwear brand in the U.S., up from No. 6, and as a brand we grew more than 35 percent. We are making a lot of progress — and quickly — from a sell-through, product and brand perspective.”
He noted that four professional players are already wearing the Ultrashot sneaker. “And we will continue to add more, in addition to competitive top younger players as well,” said Miringoff.
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