The Branding of Tennis

By Jane Voigt

January 16, 2013 -- You may think the governing body of men's tennis -- the ATP -- has lost its collective mind when you hear this. 

It has taken a step to "'allow its players to offer a little more on-body signage for sale,'" wrote USA Today.

Will hats carry logos other than their sponsors? Will shirts and shorts become blank canvases for Cadbury chocolates or motor oil?

"'Under the old rules,'" ESPN Playbook embellished, "'a player could sell two 4-inch-by-4-inch patches on sleeves to companies other than his apparel company and his headwear could feature only his apparel or racquet company.'"

Now players can dress up their hats with logos using ones outside their current clothing, racquet and shoe sponsors. Plus the size has increased to six-inches square. The backs of collars are also fair game.

The notion of seeing, let's say, Alexandr Dolgopolov's adidas shirt and shorts, plastered with promotional patches for organic hair products from the Ukraine, his home, is currently out of the question as is the dizzying prospect of players that resemble downhill ski racers out of the question. Can you imagine? 

Manufacturers whether public or private must make noise to be seen and to sell. Tennis must appear to them like a, well, wide open court for touting wares. Let's face it, all they want is a little air time on Sports Center, in a newspaper, or on a Twitter feed. 

Players themselves will control the sale of space on their duds and may even invite gambling companies, "'but not ones involved in betting on tennis,'" USA Today reported. 

Just how to regulate this can of worms goes beyond rational thinking. Can you imagine the conversation between Juan Martin del Potro -- at six-nine a waiting billboard if there ever was one -- and a marketer from "You Bet Your Life Away" dot com (this is a fake company folks).  Yeah ... sure ... we don't take bets for tennis, but ... okay let's put a patch on your shirt. You're a big guy, we could make it work. 

That's taking things a bit far, but it might, could, expand into something unruly especially for players who aren't hauling down the bucket loads of cash. 

"'The biggest plus is the size increase of the patches for the lower guys,'" Drew LeMesurier, director of talent marketing for the tennis division of Lagardere Unlimited told to ESPN Playbook. "'It's pretty significant."

Roger Federer, the man with the thickest portfolio of endorsements, could chose from a gallery of products but probably won't. According to Forbes, he is ranked number two in the world from endorsement income. Rafael Nadal is number seven. 

Leave it to an American, the home of marketing, to make the first move under the new rule. 

John Isner, the lanky six-nine Georgia graduate, has signed with Anatabloc, a dietary supplement. You'll soon see its logo on his hats. In exchange he's received shares in Anatabloc's parent company, wrote ESPN Playbook. 

The ATP relaxation of branding only pertains to its tournaments and not to grand slams, which is why you haven't seen changes at the Australian Open. 

And, really, can you imagine the pristine whites of Wimbledon all marked up with Hershey bars or Castrol motor oil or Count Chocula breakfast cereal? 

Not many can. Wimbledon doesn't allow online media to report from its hallowed halls. Blatant promotion of anything outside the realm of traditional good taste is a far-off dream, if ever. 

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013