The 2024 Australian Open is gearing up to serve a fashion-forward Grand Slam by partnering with sportswear giants, high-fashion brands and luxury labels. This year’s Australian Open will be sponsored by the likes of Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, New Balance and Rolex – positioning tennis as a rival with the races for sport’s most fashion-forward event. Tennis has a long history of involvement with the fashion industry, making it no surprise that more and more fashion brands are stepping
epping onto the court with the hopes of harnessing the game’s power of a winning narrative. Fashion is betting on the talent, fans and viewership of tennis to create brand awareness and generate sales. Brands as event sponsors For a long time tennis events were solely sponsored by athletic brands, but now the variety of sponsorship opportunities extends far beyond dressing potential Open winners. The US Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open have broadened their event partnerships beyond the conventional sportswear sponsors to now include skincare, lifestyle, liquor, chemist, car, tech, and of course, fashion brands. High-end and luxury brands alike have used tennis as a vehicle to reach new customers whom fashion’s traditional forms of advertising, such as magazines and runways, wouldn’t necessarily reach. Rolex has been a sponsor of Wimbledon since 1978 and is now the official watch sponsor of all four Grand Slams. Fellow fashion and luxury houses appear to be following in Rolex’s footsteps as they look to generate a legacy of their own. Players as brand ambassadors Unlike other major sports, such as football or basketball, brands aren’t restricted to team colours, logos and dress codes when they dress tennis players. Tennis gives brands the freedom to design without limits. Brand partnerships and ambassadorships are a lucrative part of athletes’ revenue streams, sometimes worth more than the prize money on offer at tournaments. Uniqlo has reportedly invested US$300 million over 10 years to secure Roger Federer as a brand ambassador, while Serena Williams’ eight-year Nike deal was estimated to be worth US$55 million. The strategy behind activewear brands partnering with athletes is obvious, but the strategy behind luxury labels partnering with tennis players is more subtle – despite the logos being bold. Naomi Okaska has a brand deal with Nike but is also a named brand ambassador to the LVMH luxury house Louis Vuitton. Louis Vuitton dressed Osaka for the 2021 Met Gala, and she sat in the front row at the brand’s 2022 spring/summer fashion show. Gucci has backed Jannik Sinner as a brand ambassador and provided the athlete with a personalised Gucci catch-all-bag to carry courtside. The intersection between fashion’s exclusivity and sport’s universality has created a powerful marketing mechanism. Brands win the game even if their ambassador loses the match as athletes serve viral looks. Co-branded athleisure lines Tennis players are an obvious choice for tennis-inspired clothing lines as they embody both the athleticism and lifestyle of the beloved sport. There is a slew of hall-of-fame tennis stars who have extended their brand partnerships from wearing to designing. The aforementioned Louis Vuitton ambassador Naomi Osaka has collaborated on designs and collections with Levi’s, Nike, Frankies Bikinis and Strathberry. Hugo Boss teamed up with its brand ambassador Matteo Berrettini to co-create an athleisure line that he debuted at Wimbledon in 2022. The partnership began with the Italian fashion house dressing Berettini for tournaments and then organically grew into a collection of performance-driven designs. Recently brands have partnered with the tournaments themselves to create co-branded apparel lines. The latest example of this is Ralph Lauren’s clothing line in collaboration with the Australian Open. The ready-to-wear collection allows viewers to ace their style with garments inspired by the official Australian Open outfits worn by the 4000 staff working at the event. Co-branded apparel lines with both tennis players and tennis events give brands valuable market positioning both on and off the court. The high visibility and quality coverage that Grand Slams like the Australian Open offer fashion houses is undeniable.