WIMBLEDON – Roger Federer has made some notable sartorially-splendid entrances on Wimbledon’s famed Centre Court.
There was the cardigan. The jacket with a crest. And the gold lamé bag. And various other statement pieces by his clothing sponsor, Nike.
As of Day 1 at Wimbledon 2018, make that former clothing sponsor.
Confirming weeks of rumours that Federer was going to move to the Japanese company Uniqlo after spending basically his entire life wearing the Swoosh, he walked onto centre court all in white, with some rather discreet red Uniqlo logos.
And so the rumours became reality, with a new deal that various reports have pegged at 10 years and $300 million.
“I’m happy to be back at Wimbledon. I was really able to enjoy the match out there because I got off to a good start. When you get off to a good start in set one and two, you’re able to just enjoy the moment more than when you’re struggling early on, especially at the tournament like I explained yesterday. There is always pressure and nerves when you go into a first round,” Federer said after dismantling Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 6-1, 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 19 minutes.
“Also I was excited to wear Uniqlo today. I must tell you, it’s been a long time coming. I felt very good out there. It’s also crucial to play well, so it was helpful,” he added.
A switch of this magnitude does not just materialize overnight. As Federer walked onto Centre Court to officially opening that legendary venue, an e-mail went out to tennis journalists at 1:01 p.m. announcing the 36-year-old Swiss had joined the Uniqlo family.
The press release made no mention of the outsized remuneration, of course. It focused on the intentions from both sides to do good for humanity.
Said Tadashi Yanai, UNIQLO Founder and Chairman, President & CEO of Fast Retailing,:
“Our partnership will be about innovation on and off court. We share a goal of making positive change in the world, and I hope together we can bring the highest quality of life to the greatest number of people. UNIQLO will help Mr. Federer continue taking tennis to new places, while exploring innovations in a number of areas including technology and design with him.”
“I am deeply committed to tennis and to winning championships. But like UNIQLO, I also have great love for life, culture and humanity. We share a strong passion to have a positive impact on the world around us and look forward to combining our creative endeavors.”
It’s the same sort of philanthropic strategy his Nike predecessor, Andre Agassi, and adidas used when the American made that switch years ago, after becoming synonymous with the Swoosh.
Suspense until the last moment
As Federer warmed up on Court 15 from 10:30 – 11 a.m. Monday morning, in the shadow of Centre Court, there was deliberately no hint of what was to come.
No point in revealing the big surprise during the dress rehearsal.
The rules about the limited amount of trim on the match courts – even during practice – worked in his favour. There were a few discreet Nike logos, along with the RF logo on his ballcap and his new Nike Wimbledon shoes with the “8” on them.
The members of his team also wore their Nike kits.
Two hours later, the secret was out.
Uniqlo – not a sports company
“UNIQLO describes itself as a life company that creates LifeWear, thoughtful everyday apparel with a practical sense of beauty, and constantly improved through craftsmanship and technology. With today’s announcement, LifeWear has a new champion,” the press release stated.
Along with Federer, Uniqlo also has as brand ambassadors Kei Nishikori, who is a rock star in his native Japan, as well as Aussie golfer Adam Scott.
The company just extended Nishikori’s contract through the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, which will obviously be a huge focus for them.
The deal with Federer, you have to assume, implies that he, too, intends to play at least that long.
But there are obviously no guarantees. At any rate, it’s unfathomable that Federer will still be playing tennis at the conclusion of this contract. So down the road, we might well see multiple fashion shoots involving the tennis legend posing in economically-priced separates.
Many loose ends to tie up
Federer said Monday the Federer line isn’t close to being available to the public.
“All this has just gotten underway. We’re hopeful the beginning of next year people can also start buying my stuff. For the moment, as fast at retailing as they are, as great as they are, it just needs a bit of time,” he said.
The lead time required to manufacture clothing that can be sold at retail is significant – at least a year, often 18 months. Of course, unless they have already been working diligently for months on the assumption that this was a done deal, that seems ambitious.
The other issue is Federer’s “RF” logo – which is on so many ball caps at a tennis tournament you hope he got a cut from each one.
At the moment, Nike owns the trademark on that. Federer said Monday that it would revert to him “at some point.”
And he entreated his longtime sponsor to be “nice and helpful in the process to bring it over to me.”
(If they do, that will be rather a benevolent gesture, since they no doubt have already manufactured, for example, his US Open kits and now, there will be no Federer to model them).
“It’s also something that was very important for me, for the fans really,” he said. “Look, it’s the process. But the good news is that it will come with me at one point. They are my initials. They are mine. The good thing is it’s not theirs forever. In a short period of time, it will come to me.”
“Obviously we also need to figure out with Uniqlo when at one point we can start selling clothes for the public as well. All this has just gotten underway. We’re hopeful the beginning of next year people can also start buying my stuff. For the moment, as fast at retailing as they are, as great as they are, it just needs a bit of time.”
Federer had his white Uniqlo bag on court with him, although they would already have that item.
You wonder what all the folks wearing that RF during his warmup session Monday morning think.
Patch deals, shoe opportunities
With a few notable exceptions in Asia (including the now-retired Li Na), Nike’s deal with its players is that they cannot wear patch sponsorship logos on their clothes. Their deals are exclusive.
That even applies to Federer, and Rafael Nadal, and Maria Sharapova.
Now, obviously, Federer won’t have to deal with those constraints, and he may be able to fill his coffers even more with that type of deal. He could probably also wear a “Laver Cup” patch on his gear.
Beyond that, Federer also needs some shoes, as Uniqlo can’t provide those.
It seems, again, he’s opening this up for bids while hoping Nike will agree to a shoes-only deal. As a comparison, Novak Djokovic signed a similar agreement with Asics when he moved from Uniqlo to Lacoste last year.
“I don’t have a shoe deal. I’m looking forward to see what shoes I will be wearing in the near future. For now, I will be wearing Nike. They have shown interest to have a shoe deal with me, as well,” Federer said. “Ties are not broken there. I have deep roots with Nike. I’ve had a great relationship over the last 20 years. But everything is open. Yeah, it’s very exciting also again to see what’s out there, who wants to do something with me.”
Was it a move he wanted to make?
The omnipresence of Federer commercial logos has been especially present over the last few weeks, it seems.
The man himself has often worn T-shirts emblazoned with a giant-sized version of his RF logo. There also have been a lot of Laver Cup logo sightings. At times, his agent Tony Godsick has sported both – just to have his bases covered.
The sense you got from his early comments on the potential move, upon his return to the game in Stuttgart a few weeks ago, was that he didn’t want to leave.
He didn’t even really want to talk about it, other than to say it was one of those situations he wishes had been resolved a long time ago.
Federer’s Nike contract expired on March 1. No doubt his agent would have started negotiations to extend it long before that. And to get to the point where a rival offer is leaked – hopefully to move the process along – there had to be a huge divide between what Nike thought he was worth going forward, and what Federer and his agency, Team8, perceived his value to be
In the end, they found a company that agreed with them.
It’s going to be very strange to see Federer without the swoosh, without the “RF” logo.
While it’s not so jarring at Wimbledon, with the all-white rule, things will change quickly.
When you look at the color scheme Kei Nishikori sported in Paris, it’s hard to fathom Federer in anything close to that.Embed from Getty Images