If you’ve been to a tennis shop lately or shopped online for a racquet, you probably felt a little overwhelmed.
You’re greeted with an endless actual or virtual wall of bland, similar-looking sticks.
The shapes, obviously, are similar. The color choices are, with a few exceptions, drab and unremarkable.
And if you have a brand preference, it takes some time to figure out where those racquets sit on the wall because so few of them catch your eye.
So, what to choose? Where to start?
One of the big players, Wilson, is making some moves.
“It was a sea of sameness, everything looked the same. And there were decals and technical callouts all over the racquets. So we took a step back and developed what we call ‘uncontaminated design’,” Wilson global marketing director for racquet sports Kyle Schlegel says.
“The player doesn’t need all this information. It gets in the way of the player choosing the right racquet for them,” he adds. “We took everything off them and came back to what information actually needs to be there.”
Schlegel says the design DNA established with the RF97 and the new Blade and Burn is coming to the company’s latest redesign.
The global launch for the new Ultra racquet line will be Aug. 15, with pre-sale on the company’s website at Wilson.com, and some of the bigger online retailers.
You’ve already seen the racquet on the courts in the hands of some of the players.
The deep navy colour is set off by the light blue accents at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock.
Madison Keys, Gaël Monfils and Borna Coric have all been using the same Wilson model on Tour. So the company is introducing that model – the Ultra Tour – as well.
The colors themselves are similar to the ones on the earlier Ultra models, keeping the heritage consistent. But the design template follows the lead of the new Blade and Burn, with the same elastic velvet paint and standout accents.
Beyond its looks, the racquet boasts a couple of new technologies.
“There’s a power rib in the throat of the racquet that gives that portion of the racquet a little more stability. And the crush zone technology and the grommets at the base of the head of the racquet give the ball a little more dwell time on the strings – give it that feel you’re looking for,” Shlegel says.
The current version of the Ultra did well for Wilson as an all-courter racquet – a versatile stick that produced plenty of power.
“Wilson has always been really focused on the high-end player racquet,” Shlegel says. “The Ultra is going to speak to the meat of the market. But we have tour players, and high-level juniors, playing with the Ultra models as well.”
The clean, striking looks are just a bonus.
One chance to make a first impression
But while the performance and playability always will be the focus for most players, the cosmetics often can be what initially get some buyers’ attention.
“We obviously lean a lot on the Tour players to bring some awareness to our product line. The first time all our players were into the new looks of the racquets was in Australia. It was the amazing to watch the Australian Open. You felt there were Wilson racquets everywhere,” Shlegel says. “Fans that closely align with certain players, they know Wilson. And now, they also know which model.
“You can pick them out really quickly now. Before, all the racquets largely lived in a similar space,” he adds.
Wilson has upped its game on the marketing side, with another interesting surprise to come in short order.
Global Wilson Demo Holiday
As well, the company is coordinating its racquet demo days around the world to all be scheduled on the same day – Sept. 9, the day of the US Open women’s singles final.
“We run close to 3,000 events around the world. We’d never really coordinated them into one day before to make a “demo holiday” until now,” Shelegel says.
On that day, there will be several hundred demonstration events to promote all the new racquets – with a specific focus on the new Ultra. The hope is that, with the big match scheduled for later on, players will make it part of a big tennis day.
Just a decade ago, players bought a new racquet every three years according to Tennis Industry Association statistics. These days, they buy less than half as frequently.
The fact that racquets are a whole lot cheaper than they were a generation ago – even a better bargain, proportionately, with the increase in the cost of living in the interim – hasn’t seemed to make that much of a difference.
“It was time for some new ideas. Time to breathe some life into it and get people back on the courts,” Shlegel says.
“There hasn’t been much over the last seven years in terms of innovation, or storytelling, or experiences that make people want to go out and buy a racquet,” he adds.“We’ve got to shake the malaise. And we think the new initiatives are going to help do just that.”