How do sponsors ever make a racket in a tennis tournament that bans branding, asks Ken Ross, sports marketing consultant at www.nowcommunications.co.uk
Whether it’s the FA Cup or Formula 1, watching archive footage of almost any major sporting event brings one thing to the fore for marketing people: the impact of sponsorship has transformed the game. Except, that is, down at SW19.
While logos and branding have popped up on the shirts, the turf, the ground and even the adjudicators across the entire sporting spectrum, at Wimbledon things look pretty much the same as they did in the days of Fred Perry.
Wimbledon’s marketing strategy contrasts sharply with the other three grand slams in the game. Courtside sponsorship is not permitted and the organiser’s all-white clothing rule means that the big brands behind Federer and friends need to keep their logos to an unobtrusive three inches square or less.
Off the court, sponsorship opportunities are limited too, with organisers largely restricting opportunities to those providing essential services for the tournament – like clocks, computers and, erm, champagne.
So how can Wimbledon’s sponsors make a racket? If they’re hidden under a bushel on the court, what can these sponsors do to maximise a return from their investment on the other side of the fence. For most, it’s about leveraging the Wimbledon brand prestige by association.
By keeping the ball firmly in its own court, Wimbledon has, arguably, become a brand that needs its sponsors less than its sponsors need it.
Last year US operation Ralph Lauren joined Wimbledon’s elite group of commercial supporters by sneaking under the brand umpire’s nose with an innovative strategy that supplied designer gear to the tournament’s officials. At a reported cost of $10 million, Ralph Lauren’s deal is designed to put the Wimbledon logo on Lauren’s clothes, rather than the other way around.
Leveraging the prestige that comes with the Wimbledon brand will deliver greater exposure in an elite European market it is keen to penetrate, says the RL team. The business will sell a 100-piece line of official Wimbledon attire online and in stores across Europe, the United States and in its new Japanese flagship store.
“Wimbledon is selling an experience,” says Nader Tavassoli, marketing professor at the London Business School. “That experience includes strawberries and cream and the grass courts and the rain breaks and a sense of Britishness, maybe snobbishness even. The bride wearing white at a wedding is part of the tradition. Does it change the experience if the bride wears a miniskirt? I think it does.”
We might not have a winner on the court, but Britain’s been winning the game in marketing terms for years.