The US Open has always posed timing issues for new product. But if manufacturers are not introducing racquets and shoes, they’re still raising awareness of their brands.
By Kent Oswald
America’s greatest tennis event comes at practically the worst time on the calendar for the tennis industry: The fortnight when the sport takes center stage in this country occurs as the selling season is in its dying ember phase.
Imagine the sales and marketing tie-ins missed with a late August, early September event coinciding with many players stowing their tennis gear into months-long hibernation. How many more racquets could be sold if the US Open took place earlier in the year, around the time the tour touches down in Indian Wells or Key Biscayne?
It’s not that manufacturers are completely ignoring opportunities to raise awareness of their products at the Open. Head, for example, counts on receiving the promotional benefit of endorsees Novak Djokovic playing with the YouTek IG Speed Pro and Maria Sharapova and Tomas Berdych playing with their YouTek IG Instincts as part of the buzz emanating from Flushing Meadows. Although the players have been hitting with the new sticks since spring, the company only began in early August to ship stores the YouTek IG Instinct MP and YouTek IG Instinct S racquets. Similarly, the company also stepped up its promotion of the newly released Radical Pro II shoe for men.
With more than 70,000 of its US Open balls in use during the two weeks of play, Wilson, too, is relying on a lot of free television face time for the brand as a key to its Open marketing. As for the actual faces fans will see reminding them of who is the largest player in the tennis industry, the tour team includes Roger Federer playing with the Six.One Tour BLX; Serena and Venus Williams hitting with the Blade Team BLX; and Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova relying on the Tour BLX. Wilson also has produced a special edition NYC shoe in its top-of-the-line Tour Vision line that incorporates “NYC 2011” embroidery and a new colorway.
Rather than “officially” launching a new racquet or shoe at the Open, Prince is looking to drive sales with a consumer campaign. Purchases in August and September from the company’s EXO 3 racquet line — with its promise of “edge-to-edge response” — receive an automatic discount of $30 off. That promotion followed on the heels of a global Facebook campaign encouraging people to “like” the company for the chance to win a 3-day, 2-night trip for two “VIPs” to New York.
Babolat focused its Open-related promotional efforts on building ties through its endorsees, inviting video posts of kids 17 and younger hitting shots inspired by a Babolat pro. The company scheduled weekly rounds of online voting for fan favorites through the Open. Final votes will be cast in the tournament’s afterglow and one boy and one girl will each win a trip to Indian Wells in the spring in recognition of their ability to caricaturize a Babolat pro.
During last year’s Open, Dunlop used its outdoor voice to launch its Biomimetic sticks. While the company will be extending the line featuring benefits imitative of nature’s genius further into the fall and claims sales have exceeded expectations, they are using their indoor voice promoting the newest additions, the 100 and 200 Tour. Aimed at a “niche” player market, the racquets — the former with a smaller head and latter with some added heft — are scheduled for limited distribution through specific speciality shops.
As much as any company, Yonex aligns its product rollouts and promotions directly with the tennis calendar. Its new VCore racquets and Power Cushion (three-layer) shoes were introduced in the States during the spring. For the Japanese-based company, the Open is all about star power at both ends of the age spectrum as a marketing force. At one edge, the company stands to attract attention if this turns out to be the first Major triumph for Caroline Wozniacki and her VCore 100S. At the other extreme, every ball hit by Kimiko Date-Krumm, 40, with her S-Fit racquet will be one more clean winner in strengthening ties with players who have left their school days far behind.
Similar to the racquet manufacturers, Adidas won’t be launching any new styles at the Open but will hope the hoopla (and sales) come courtesy of its second-week warriors. Andy Murray will be wearing the Barricade 6.0; Fernando Verdasco and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga the adiZero Feather; and Ana Ivanovic and Daniela Hantuchova the adiZero Tempaia.
By way of contrast, K-Swiss will launch a new shoe around the US Open. Its goal will be to focus industry and consumer attention on the use of its “Tubes Technology” cushioning for the first time in this market with the launch of the Tubes Tennis 100.
While some larger manufacturers have marquee player endorsements and big-time (for tennis, at least) marketing budgets, more specialized manufacturers count on the annual gathering of insiders and tennis specialists to create word-of-mouth buzz that will ripple out into the tennis world through the fall and encourage specialty shops and teaching pros to consider making a bigger push in the new year for the company’s racquets with their customers.
Pacific, for example, will be talking up its new X-Fast Pro 100, released earlier this summer. Directly correlating to the company’s origins in string technology, the racquet was designed “backwards” from the interplay of ball and strings and then to the frame, which in this case was created to complement aggressive games heavy on power and spin.
Similarly, Tecnifibre rolled out its new family of racquets using VO2 Max (promising exceptional control and stability) and Tour Prepared technologies (a layer of silicon in the handle to minimize polyester string-related vibration) during the US Open Series. As with most smaller players, hopes for marketing pop from the Open itself will rely on the individual success of dark horses. In Tecnifibre’s case this means strong second-week performances by Janko Tipsarevic or Marcos Baghdatis, or perhaps even Roland Garros junior champ American Bjorn Fratangelo.
And Donnay, which relaunched the brand in the U.S. earlier in the year with the thin-framed, relatively lighter X-P Dual frames, will release its Dual Pro in conjunction with the Open. Following the Open, the brand will ramp up its footprint with sponsorship of Jim Courier’s Champion’s Series, the 12-city, September-October senior tour featuring Courier, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Bjorn Borg and Michael Chang.
With racquet, shoe and all other tennis technology improving, the US Open promises to be a great fortnight for the game. Still, on behalf of the manufacturers, one can’t help but regret that a tennis extravaganza will never morph into a sales bonanza.
See all articles by Kent Oswald
About the Author
Kent Oswald is a contributor to TennisNow.com, producer at the JockBookReview.com and a former editor of Tennis Week magazine.