How Wimbledon’s Cancellation Disrupted the Marketing Plans of Athletic Brands

Already having one Grand Slam event, the French Open, postponed until late September, Wimbledon last week became the latest tennis major to succumb to the coronavirus crisis. Although understandable, the cancellation further delayed compelling storylines that brands could bank on sharing.

On the men’s side, a battle of legends for the championship was expected when play began June 28 in London and culminated July 11. Asics-backed Novak Djokovic was widely projected to beat Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, winning the tournament for the sixth time and defending his 2019 victory.

Nike-sponsored Serena Williams was the women’s favorite, but the tennis icon — who is a seven-time Wimbledon champ —  would have to defeat tough competition from the next wave of talent in the sport, including Ashleigh Barty and last year’s winner Simona Halep, to capture her eighth title.

With tennis’ biggest stars forced to stay home, brands competing for marketshare in the sport are challenged with how to best use them in marketing initiatives.

For Fila, the company that backs No. 1 ranked Barty, thoughtful social media messaging is the focus of any marketing strategy for the time being.

“The health and safety of our athletes, their families and our team at Fila is our absolute top priority. While professional tennis — like the entire professional sports landscape — is on hold, we have shifted our strategy to focus on what is most important during this time,” explained Fila director of marketing and strategic partnerships for tennis Lauren Mallon. “That includes utilizing our platforms and our athletes to encourage others to stay at home.”

The heritage athletic label said its efforts will showcase the athletes less as superhuman and more as everyman.

“We have been working very closely with them in an effort to bring some encouragement and joy to our fans around the world. One example is our #StayHome series [where] our athletes are creating videos to promote the importance of staying at home, while sharing hobbies and unique at-home training routines in an effort to remain in shape for when the season resumes,” Mallon said.

For K-Swiss, social media is also the center of all marketing plans. The company’s VP of Americas sales, Mike Miringoff, said it will continue to use its stars in social media activations, such as the Instagram takeover Ajla Tomljanović did recently.

Much of the industry has taken a similar thoughtful and encouraging approach as tennis is on hiatus. Nike, for example, featured Williams in its “Play for the World” campaign and showed how she’s spending time indoors in the company’s Instagram Stories. (The athletic powerhouse shared Williams announcing her family’s “starting lineup,” much like you’d experience at a live sports event, which is also on her Instagram grid.)

However, the status of major campaigns moving forward for brands is up in the air.

“The potential impact will affect the types of marketing activities we do and how much we can do,” Miringoff said. “We have already recalibrated the marketing activity focus based on the current situation. Just as in any business, our budget is directly tied to our revenue and profit, so we have to monitor this closely throughout the balance of the year.”

As for Fila, Mallon said the brand is in “constant communication with athletes and their teams,” however wouldn’t confirm its tennis-related marketing plans when life returns to normal, only stating, “we are focusing on digital efforts and how we can best utilize our platforms to do our part in encouraging others to stay at home.”

Aside from what companies can do on social media in the immediate future, some have promised to still release marketing and promotional efforts that have already been finished. For instance, K-Swiss orchestrated a photo and video shoot with its athletes that was going to coincide with last month’s Indian Wells Masters, an event sponsored by Fila. Though that tournament was canceled, Miringoff said the assets from the shoot will be revealed this month.

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