Today we have a post from guest writer Grant V, who has written about tennis clothing sponsorships in 2023.
Tennis Clothing Sponsorships in 2023
Where the major players and brands stand on tennis clothing sponsorships in 2023…
*All rankings mentioned in this article are based on the ATP and WTA rankings released on March 6th.
Sponsorships, specifically clothing sponsorships, are big business in tennis. Look no further than Roger Federer’s $300M deal with Uniqlo or, more recently, Jannik Sinner’s $150M deal with Nike to get the sense that this stuff matters.
But it’s not just about the money. Some of the most recognizable clothing companies have roots in tennis. Rene Lacoste, known as “the Crocodile” on the pro tour, founded his now ubiquitous clothing brand in 1933 (only after winning seven grand slams). Today, the rich history of tennis apparel permeates streetwear, formal wear, and even skate culture. See Kith’s collaboration with Wilson or Prince’s work with Sporty & Rich. All of the above supports a vibrant fashion ecosystem on the pro tour.
Dominant in the past, not so much anymore
Some dominant brands of the past are now scarcely seen on tour. Sergio Tacchini, worn by many legends (e.g., John McEnroe) and a young Novak Djokovic, no longer sponsors a single Top 100 player. Today, the brand is most notoriously donned not by a star player but by Novak’s coach: Goran Ivanisevic.
Or consider Ellesse, founded in 1959. The company logo–snow skis with a tennis ball–was worn back in the day by Chris Evert, Boris Becker, and Mats Wilander. The best opportunity to see Ellesse gear seems to be when Ryan Peniston (#152) and Paul Jubb (#239) qualify for Wimbledon.
Slazenger, Diadora, Balle de Match, Reebok, and Maggia…the list goes on for heritage brands that have faded in relevance or evaporated from the scene altogether.
Over 30 clothing companies sponsor the ATP and WTA’s Top 100 players. Below is an exploration of where some key brands stand, including major existing partnerships and notable signings for the current season.
A Blue Chip Brand Slightly Changing Course (Nike)
When analyzing the distribution of clothing sponsorships across the tour’s top players, you uncover some facts that sort of…blow your mind. Here’s one: in 2023, Nike has 13 sponsored players inside the ATP’s Top 100. All these players are inside the top 60, and 12 are inside the top 30. At the time of this post, Jack Draper is their lowest-ranked player inside the Top 100 at #56.
It gets more ridiculous when you look at the WTA, where 20 players ranked inside the Top 100 wear Nike, and 11 of them are inside the Top 50. Aligned with its global reach, these 20 players hail from 14 different countries.
Put simply, this is what makes Nike, along with Adidas and Lacoste, the top tier of tennis clothing – they sponsor the lion’s share of top players, and they’ve been doing it for longer than the other brands.
But recent news indicates Nike is refining its strategy for sponsoring tennis athletes, including new player requirements for ranking and tournament entries. It might not be a coincidence that three women have left Nike for new partnerships: Sloane Stephens (#48) joined Free People, Donna Vekic (#24) formed her own line with Uomo Sport, and Marta Kotsyuk (#44) became Wilson’s first 360 athlete.
.On the men’s side, Nike’s notable losses this year are Andrey Rublev (#7), who joined Bulgari to launch his own line, and Miomir Kecmanovic (#31), who is currently the only Top 100 player to wear Dunlop.
The German Giant Adds a Top 50 Asset (Adidas)
Partnering with 8 of the ATP’s Top 100 and 9 of the WTA’s Top 100, Adidas ranks third based on the brand’s sheer volume of sponsorships inside the Top 100. Lotto currently has 19 players across both tour’s Top 100 lists, but only 5 inside the Top 50 (Adidas has 7).
Adidas had a more or less uneventful transition from 2022 to 2023, adding 1 major ATP player. Francisco Cerundolo (#32), a player who surged to relevance last year by making the semis of Miami and then performing well on the clay circuit, received a promotion of sorts by switching from Joma to Adidas.
Aside from new signings, the German brand has much to be excited about early in the year. The company has 4 players inside the WTA’s Top 10: Jessica Pegula (#3), Maria
Sakkari (#7), Daria Kasatkina (#8), and this year’s Australian Open champion, Elena Rybakina (#10). On the men’s side, Dominic Thiem (#102) is inching back inside the top 100, Yibing Wu (#67) announced himself with his recent win in Dallas, and Alexander Zverev (#14) is back from injury.
No Major Changes for the Croc (Lacoste)
Between this year and last, Lacoste has neither lost nor gained a major asset to its sponsorship roster. The timeless brand currently sponsors 8 players within the ATP’s Top 100, with Novak Djokovic (#1) at the top and Ugo Humbert (#77) rounding out the bottom.
In 2021, Lacoste announced they were extending their ongoing deal with Djokovic to 2025, a wise timeline for the brand considering Djokovic has shown no signs of slowing down. Their Djokovic deal pairs nicely alongside a contract with Daniil Medvedev (#6) through 2026; Medvedev is currently the hottest player on the men’s side with back-to-back-to-back wins in Rotterdam, Qatar, and Dubai.
The lineup on the women’s side doesn’t contain the same star power. Lacoste has deals with 4 players inside the WTA Top 100, with Jil Teichmann (#39) leading the way.
A Rising Star Continues Its Ascent (Asics)
Is Asics taking over tennis? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when and how this brand plotted its arrival on the court. Looking back, a landmark year came in 2013, when both Gael Monfils and Tommy Haas (both Top 30 players around that time) signed deals to wear Asics.
Regardless, it’s undeniable that this Japanese brand has taken hold within both the men’s and women’s games. Asics struck gold in 2020 when they signed an 18 year-old Iga Swiatek (#1). The press release of the deal is tickling, as the headline spotlights the signings of Borna Coric (#20) and Caroline Garcia (#5), but only references Swiatek, the “emerging Polish talent,” in the fine print. (Garcia has since moved onto a Yonex partnership.)
For the 2023 season, Asics signed two new players on the men’s side: Slovakian Alex Molcan (#62) joined from Bidi Badu and Jason Kubler (#75) shifted over from Lotto. Both players are coming off career-best years. With these additions, Asics now has 6 women and 7 men inside the Top 100.
But one could argue Asics’ strength lies in its loaded pool of young talent. In addition to Swiatek, Asics has signed 8 players aged 22 or younger across both tours. On the women’s side, Alycia Parks (#55), Claire Liu (#56), and Diane Parry (#111) are all on the Asics team. Parks has built upon her momentum from last year, recently winning the Lyon title where she beat Caroline Garcia in the final.
The intrigue continues when you turn to the ATP. Eighteen year-old Arthur Fils (#111) began a partnership with Asics in 2021, and this youngster is now making an early case for 2023’s Newcomer of the Year. With his brutalizing forehand, the Frenchman reached back-to-back semifinals in February, with key wins over Richard Gasquet, Roberto Bautista Agut, and Stanislas Wawrinka.
It doesn’t end there for Asics. Giulo Zeppieri (#123), Dominic Stricker (#126), and Leandro Riedi (#135) are all promising talents 21 years or younger and aligned with the brand. Advantage Asics, the game’s ultimate challenger brand.
Heritage Brands Standing Strong (Fila, Yonex)
Perhaps no tennis shirt is more iconic than Bjorn Borg’s Fila striped polo. And the classic aura of the Fila brand remains present on the tour, as the company has 5 men and 7 women in the Top 100, respectively.
Shortly after Ash Barty’s retirement in 2022, Fila announced a new deal with Barbara Krejcikova (#16), a player with finesse and grit reminiscent of the Aussie great. Fast forward to February of this year when Krejcikova’s bested world #1 Swiatek in the Dubai final. This win launched her back inside the top 20 alongside fellow Fila ambassadors like Ekaterina Alexandrova (#18) and Karolina Pliskova (#17).
On the men’s side, Mackenzie McDonald (#52) parted ways with Fila in the off-season and joined Original Penguin. Jumping in to fill McDonald’s void, Quentin Halys (#71) leveled up from his K-Swiss sponsorship and now wears Fila. Halys won a string of Challenger Tour titles in the past year and recently struck a career-high ranking of #61.
Yonex currently has 3 women’s players and 6 men’s players inside the Top 100, with top performers Caroline Garcia (#5), Casper Ruud (#4), and Hubie Hurkacz (#11).
Yonex made no acquisitions on the clothing front, but continues to make ground on new racket deals. Jack Sock (#154), Tommy Paul (#19), and Soonwoo Kwon (#70) are all playing with Yonex rackets in 2023.
An Emergent Force (New Balance)
Over the last few years, a batch of innovative clothing brands have entered the game or expanded their presence in the sport. Among the many, New Balance stands out. The Boston-based brand currently touts partnerships with 4 men and 2 women in the Top 100.
New Balance attained high-profile status by establishing a partnership with Coco Gauff (#6). The brand extended their relationship with Gauff in 2022, but no source I’ve seen indicates the discrete terms of their contract. Nonetheless, NB signing Gauff is almost akin to the Uniqlo-Federer deal. Certainly, Gauff has not reached Federer’s untouchable status, but this is a case where a sought after face-of-the-game was successfully courted by a non-blue chip brand and away from the likes of Nike and Adidas.
New Balance’s key new acquisition for 2023 is the young American talent Ben Shelton (#41). In last year’s US Open, Shelton sported Nike clothing, and there were rumors circulating in the off-season that he would wear On tennis shoes beginning in 2023. Nonetheless, at this year’s Australian Open, Shelton was decked out head-to-toe in New Balance gear.
Other Noteworthy Activity (Emporio Armani [EA7], Hydrogen, K-Swiss, Head, Alo, Diadora)
• ? Both Alexander Bublik (#46) and Lorenzo Sonego (#59) have signed on with Giorgio Armani’s EA7 line.
• ? Hydrogen, an Italian brand, appears to have dropped deals with both Adrian Mannarino (#67) and Aslan Karatsev (#105).
• ? K-Swiss picked up a pair of Argentinians on the men’s side, Pedro Cachin (#65) and Tomas Etcheverry (#60), and also added Canadian Rebecca Marino (#74).
• ? Head added Finnish player Emil Ruusuvuori (#54), marking the 3rd men’s player inside the Top 100 for the long-standing brand.
• ? The new brand on the block this year is Alo, which has been worn recently by Danielle Collins (#31) and Alison Riske-Amritraj (#58).
• ? Martina Trevisan (#26) and Alexander Davidovich Fokina (#28) remain today the only Top 100 players to wear the legendary Diadora brand.