Doesn’t everyone celebrate their birthday by signing a new clothing contract?
That’s how World No. 1 Novak Djokovic spent his 25th birthday by both beginning a new clothing deal and ending abruptly one of the more tumultuous relationships in tennis marketing in some time.
Even if you’re one of those tennis fans who doesn’t spend a lot of time noticing what the pros wear on the court, you can’t but have helped to have heard a little about Djokovic’s endorsement deal with Sergio Tacchini that he made a few years ago after Adidas, who Djokovic was currently signed to, added the then red-hot Andy Murray to their roster. Djokovic signed a deal with the Italian brand that was now owned by a Hong Kong businessman while the company was trying to relaunch their iconic brand that was big in the 80’s having been worn by John McEnroe at one point.
When Djokovic reached No. 1 along with winning the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2011, it seemed like a perfect marriage for both player and brand that should have made them both millions.
But in an almost perverse twist, the relationship was doomed because it became a victim of its own success.
While Djokovic was expected to earn healthy performance bonus for his near-perfect record last year, Sergio Tacchini had a hard time fulfilling demand for Djokovic’s new clothes. Retail outlets could never stock them because they were never sent inventory to sell. Meanwhile, Djokovic’s likely demand that the Serbian flag be displayed in some manner in later seasons of his kit, most notably this year, didn’t exactly make them must-haves except for die-hard “Nole” fans.
With the company still owing Djokovic for those performance bonuses he earned last year along with the rather negative reviews Djokovic earned for his latest kit that he showed off at last week’s Italian Open, it didn’t come as a big surprise that the announcement was made that Djokovic and Sergio Tacchini were parting ways.
The company said in an email today that, Djokovic “had outgrown the Italian brand.” A polite way of saying the company was overwhelmed by Djokovic’s success.
Minutes after the announcement, speculation commenced on where Djokovic would go next. Would he sign with Nike who already had Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal? Or would he go back to Adidas, a company focused on the “team” concept where all its players, even Andy Murray, more or less wear the same clothes. There was even talk Lacoste might get its “croc” to snap onto the suddenly free Djokovic.
So it was a surprise to some when Uniqlo, a boutique Japanese brand that currently sponsors Kei Nishikori was announced as being the new tailor for the current king of tennis. Or was it a surprise after all?
If we learned anything from the whole Sergio Tacchini snafu was that Djokovic is very interested in being the only big star associated with a brand and that he wants a bigger share of the profits. Nike and Adidas have the money and infrastructure to ensure Djokovic’s clothes will be stocked everywhere worldwide along with being able to pay Djokovic a hefty endorsement fee, but it seems Djokovic is convinced he will make more money with a smaller company by sharing in the overall profits.
Will he? Who knows? Uniqlo will be eager for the increased exposure, especially during Wimbledon and the all-important Olympics, but will they be able to successfully create a new brand identity for Djokovic with casual tennis consumers and not just hardcore “Nole” fans who have already bought the now famous t-shirt with Djokovic’s face on it that his father wore at the U.S. Open? And let’s not get into the reality that, at least in the U.S. Uniqlo has only three retail stores, all in New York City.
Time will tell if Djokovic’s newest deal is a success. But in probably the funniest and in a way saddest twist to this whole debacle is the fact that Sergio Tacchini had just finally figured out a way to sell Djokovic’s line on its website for worldwide orders. Something that had been lacking ever since they shook hands with the No. 1 back in 2010.
As they say in Roma, Sayanora Signor Djokovic.