Equipment: New Racquets and Shoes for Fall
By Kent Oswald
The US Open fortnight is a time of reflection and hope for tennis manufacturers and retailers. Much of the reflection focuses on dollars and how to get more of them in the coming year. The hope is driven by how technology keeps improving the experience.
While the industry’s roller-coaster ride continues, there are signs that (perhaps) there may be a little bit more available for everyone’s cash register. The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association recently announced annual wholesale spending across the entire sports marketplace increased just over 4 percent in 2011 to $77.31 billion.
On the other hand, figures collected by Sports Marketing Surveys for the Tennis Industry Association estimate an audience of about 27 million — down from 2009’s approximately 30 million — played tennis at least once in 2011; about 4.8 million hit frequently, slightly on the underside of the 5 million the game has averaged the last few years. Hopes are high for the 10 and Under Tennis initiative, but those newcomers have not yet begun working their way through the system in measurable numbers.
For the entire industry, racquet sales dropped 8.7 percent from 2007 through 2011 to $97 million, although tennis shoe sales are up to $162 million, a 3.4 percent increase in the same period. Measuring just the high end, specialty racquet sales are down about 100,000 units from 2007.
While sales continue to reflect the economic challenges of the past few years, one constant is the disconnect between America’s premier tennis viewing event and its use as a time to focus that interest on new products, at a time when category sales traditionally head south for a few months (see the “Timing Gear” story in RSI’s September/October 2011 issue). Economic pressures have forced manufacturers to look more closely at their marketing and promotion budgets, and one result is a diminishing number of manufacturers rolling out new products or even promoting recently tweaked products on or around the US Open.
But, while most companies are promising their next big product launches for the beginning of 2013, there are still those taking the court during the Open.
Adidas extends its Adizero series with men’s and women’s updates that are very much part of the recent trend toward lightweight, durable and “shockingly” colorful footwear. In addition to serving as kicks of choice for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Fernando Verdasco, Kei Nishikori, Daniela Hantuchova and Ana Ivanovic among others, the three stripes will be supporting sales of the shoes with in-store POP such as window decals, Adizero booklets, Adizero specific shoe shelf wrap, a free pair of Formotion socks with purchase and Adidas Ultimate Tees featuring the Adizero slogan “Fast On Any Surface.” (Adizero Feather II, for men is in dark blue/running white; Adizero Tempaia II for women is in bright pink/white.)
The Gel Resolution 4 tennis shoe will be available in new colors following the Open. Recognizing trends of the past few years, the palette is a bit darker and bolder as the company continues to build its presence at the local level.
The shoes are available for both men and women. Currently the footwear of choice for Australia’s Sam Stosur and America’s Irina Falconi, this flagship of the Asics tennis models is the most stable of the Japanese company’s footwear line with a form-fitting upper, a memory-foam collar and heel to personalize a fit, exceptionally durable outsole and stability. The shoe also is backed up by a six-month durability guarantee. (Available in titanium/silver/electric melon and eclipse/beetroot purple/silver.)
One of few companies fully leveraging the US Open to bring attention to new products, Dunlop is introducing six new racquets in its biomimetic-themed line to media and the industry during the two weeks of play. While more than satisfied with the success it’s had since introducing the line of racquets built on the idea of taking from the best ideas in nature, the company is adamant that the game has changed so dramatically that it requires evermore “radical” redesigns.
The racquets feature a new naming system (“F” for players with fast/fuller swings; “M” for medium/moderate swings and “S” for short/slower swings), rounder heads, more aerodynamic profiles and an upgrade of the “aero skin” that cuts down wind resistance, “self-lubricating” grommets that allow freer string movement, and the addition of “biofibers” in the throat to further dampen vibration.
(The F 3.0 Tour has a 98-square-inch head, is 27 inches long and weighs 11.48 ounces. The M 3.0 is 98 square inches, 27 inches, 11.02 ounces. The S 3.0 Lite is 98 square inches, 27 inches, 9.85 ounces. The M 6.0 is 102 square inches, 27 inches, 10.5 ounces. The S 6.0 LITE is 105 square inches, 27.25 inches, 10.2 ounces. And the S 8.0 LITE is 115 square inches, 27.5 inches, 9.47 ounces.)
Boston-based manufacturer New Balance is taking a new look at how to grow its loyal tennis audience. Promising a bigger rollout in 2013, the only major footwear company with production in the United States will be talking up the new and different look of its low-cut, “featherweight” 851s for men and women as a precursor to the additional emphasis they plan to bring to the sport. (Women’s model in blue/pink, men’s in blue/yellow.)
The game-improvement Organix 2 and Organix 3 racquets (at right) are being introduced to Volkl’s DNX carbon nanotube frame line. The German company is also highlighting its new graphite frame Team Speed designed for newer players. The marketing rollout is a full social media press, with featured placement on Volk’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, co-op e-blasts and newsletters, as well as placement on the newly launched website, catalogs, in-store posters and point-of-purchase materials at tennis events, Volkl demo days and clinics. (The Organix 2 has a 115 square inch head, is 27.6 inches long, and weighs, 9.4 ounces unstrung. The Organix 3 is 110 square inches, 27 inches and 9.5 ounces unstrung. Team Speed is 102 square inches, 27 inches and 9.4 ounces unstrung.)
While the beginning of the calendar year is when the majority of its new products are introduced, Chicago-based Wilson has timed a few additions to both its shoe and racquet lines for the months closer to the US Open. The Tour Ikon series, the company’s premier shoe offering, has a new choice among its low-profile, high durability shoes featuring breathable synthetic leather, mesh uppers and nanoWick moisture-management lining. (For men, it’s in sport royal/black.)
The company also expands the racquet line with three new models. The Juice series (choice of Feliciano Lopez and Victoria Azarenka) and Steam group (endorsed by Kei Nishikori and Petra Kvitova) were both introduced earlier this year and now have mid-plus head-size options. (The Juice 100 BLX has a head size of 100 square inches, a length of 27 inches and weighs 11.3 oz. strung. The Steam 100 BLX is 100 square inches, 27.25 inches and 11 ounces.)
The iconic Pro Staff has also been tweaked. The current choice of Roger Federer and in earlier incarnations of Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg and Jim Courier, the Pro Staff Six.One BLX is udpated with the Amplifeel handle system, a technology featuring foam that conforms to a player’s grip, highlights the tweaks. (Pro Staff Six.One BLX is 90 square inches, 27 inches and 12.5 ounces.)
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.