From one unsourced story in a British tabloid, come dozens of cut-and-paste clones.
And so, as rumor becomes “fact” in an Internet instant, Maria Sharapova agent Max Eisenbud set the record straight Sunday on the Russian star’s future with longtime clothing sponsor Nike.
The story in question, in The Sun, claims Sharapova has “told friends that she believes the sportswear giant will not renew her deal when it expires at the end of this year”. And that sources indicate she “is hoping that Adidas will take her on.”
Eisenbud told tennis.life those assertions are fiction.
“It’s just incredible how a publication can make up lies and not be held accountable. Even worse is how other publications run with the story as if it is fact. It’s a huge issue,” Eisenbud said.
“For the record, Maria has a lifetime deal with Nike. Her fans will get to see some of her best dresses in 2019 and more La Cortez.”
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 like 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.
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.
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.
After two and a half months away from the match court, Roger Federer is back.
He’ll hit the grass in Stuttgart for his first match on Wednesday, against veteran lefty Mischa Zverev, a familiar opponent on grass.
Of the five times they’ve met (Federer has yet to lose a set), three have been on grass. Two of them came a year ago, in Halle and in the third round at Wimbledon.
But before the 36-year-old even serves, he has already made plenty of news.
The most amusing part was the officially-scheduled Federer practice on Sunday on the centre court in Stuttgart.
A telling sign of just exactly how much a player of Federer’s pedigree means to a 250-level tournament like Stuttgart was that his hit was announced for 5 p.m. on the official order of play.
That was – of course – right in the middle of the French Open in Paris between Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem.
Federer seemed rather in good spirits for the practice with Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber.
But the focus was partly on what Federer was wearing.
The answer: Nike, of course. At least for now.
Rumours of a move to Uniqlo
Fact: Federer’s 10-year deal with Nike expired March 1.
And, as with any contract renewal negotiation, discussions would have begun long before that expiry date.
But there is no deal yet.
And, in the interim, a trial balloon was floated that the Japanese company Uniqlo has weighed in with a massive offer.
Not sure how this whole Federer Nike story will play out. Big surprise that it is even an issue. But my understanding, from an industry source, is that the "RF" brand is not Nike's in perpetuity. Rights to it would revert to Federer at some stage if he does not re-sign with Nike
Uniqlo, which sponsors Japanese superstar Kei Nishikori (and just re-upped with him in a $50 million deal that takes both sides through the market-crucial Tokyo Olympics in 2020), freed up some cash after Novak Djokovic went to Lacoste.
But … $30 million US a year, for 10 years? That would take it well beyond Federer’s playing days, and well into his retirement. Well, one would assume, anyway.
Federer acknowledged that the Nike deal (which was a reported $100 million for 10 years, and probably undervalued in the market by this point, given Federer’s resurgence) had expired, and that he’d heard the rumours.
“These rumors are known to me. (Not a) rumor is that my Nike contract expired in March. There are negotiations going on, there’s nothing more to say. You are certainly the first to know when something is going in that direction,” Federer said during a press conference in Stuttgart Monday.
A lot of outlets are reporting this as a done deal. It’s unlikely that’s true. But the gloves are off.
Looking for lifetime deal?
It’s hard to imagine that Team Federer would want to leave Nike. It’s an association that has been ongoing since 1994. And Federer’s RF Nike logo is iconic.
And it’s hard to imagine that Nike would want to leave Federer. The Swiss star is, by a wide margin, the player who moves the most tennis merchandise for them – for any tennis manufacturer, actually.
But at what price?
That obviously is the rub.
If it has taken this long to come to an agreement, there are two factors to be looked at. The first is the actual dollars. The second is the length of the agreement, with Federer’s playing days counting down.
From the Team Federer perspective, you could speculate realistically that they’re looking for a lifetime deal. He has become, through the years, a sporting icon who transcends tennis.
But the Nike business revolves around the shoe.
Basketball superstar LeBron James signed a lifetime deal with the company in 2015. He’s 33..
Soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who also is 33, signed a lifetime deal of his own in November, 2016.
Michael Jordan, who has been retired 15 years, is estimated to have earned $473 million from his Nike association since 1993. And only the first 10 years of that came while he was an active player.
Federer’s name recognition is up there with those athletes, on some levels. But the sport he plays does not bring Nike nearly the same level of revenue. And so a “lifetime” deal wouldn’t come with nearly the same number of dollars.
For a long period of time, the American was as identified with the “swoosh” as Federer is now. Maybe even more – on the North American scene, especially. And the association revolutionized the marketing of tennis.
It seemed unthinkable at the time that he would leave. But Agassi spun it well; the deal with adidas had huge philanthropic element, a financial commitment to his foundation.
Would Federer be a difference-maker worldwide? Certainly they seem to think so, especially if Federer plays on and competes in the 2020 Olympics on Uniqlo’s home turf.
But what we really don’t know is how legitimate those alleged numbers are.
Make no mistake, the news of this sudden “competitor” for Federer’s allegiance was strategically leaked.
And those numbers are perhaps an inadvertent clue into what Team Federer believes its man is worth to Nike.
Perhaps, with negotiations not progressing after all these months, it was time to try to put pressure on Nike. The rumours are undoubtedly a move to put Federer in what’s always the best negotiation position: creating a bidding war and letting Nike know that what they’ve come up with so far isn’t nearly enough. And that if they don’t up the ante, someone else is ready to take it on.
The delicate balance here is the potential harm it could do to Federer’s “peRFect” image.
So – and this is an understatement – the Swiss star has earned more than he and generations of his descendants could ever possibly spend.
Federer has a number of high-profile sponsorship deals, most recently a $40 million contract with the pasta-maker Barilla. The company’s Federer commercials regularly ran on French television during the French Open, despite his absence.
And early in the event, he was even in town for a Moët champagne event celebrating his 20 years on tour. A special bottle priced at $19,998 was announced, with the profits going to his foundation.
The Nike-Federer relationship is firmly anchored. And a lot fans can’t imagine one without the other.
If it’s perceived that Federer left merely because of big stacks of money, the average fan making a working salary will resent it.
So if it happens, that’s going to require some deft public relations.
There’s always a “respect” component to these things – a “scoreboard” where success is measured not so much by the actual dollars (especially when the athlete concerned is beyond worrying about the dollars). It’s about “did he get what he’s worth, relative to other athletes at his level?”
In the end, it’s a chase for one dollar more than the other guy got. That means a “win”.
The 2018 season was always going to be a fascinating one, from this perspective. Because Rafael Nadal’s long-term deal with Nike also is expiring this year.
So what happens with Federer is something Team Nadal no doubt will keep a close eye on.
The sound of the ball off the racket, of course, sounds the same as ever.
Here’s what it looked like.
Nike ready to represent
There are promo posters celebrating Williams’ return to Paris all over the city.
“The Queen is Back” – they harken.
Is she? We’ll soon find out.
Williams’ first-round opponent is Kristyna Pliskova, the lefty twin sister of top-five player Karolina Pliskova.
Pliskova’s ranking has been as high as No. 35 (that was last July). It’s currently at No. 70. But she has some good wins during the clay-court swing.
She qualified and made the third round in Madrid. And in Charleston, on the American Har-Tru in early April, she defeated Petra Kvitova, Katerina Siniakova and Elena Vesnina on her way to the quarterfinals.
Can it be Serena time?
Through all of Williams’ notable absences from the Tour during her long career, you always got the sense that when she did return, she could turn on the switch and become Serena again.
There was a lot of hard work and sweat behind the scenes to make that happen, of course. But her base level is so high, she can win a lot of matches even as she tries get back to her top level.
Everyone remembers that 2007 Australian Open when Williams came in visibly out of shape. And yet, by the end of the fortnight, not only was she far more match fit – she was holding up the trophy.
Williams was unseeded, ranked No. 81 when she went Down Under. On her way to a 6-1, 6-2 win in the final over world No. 2 Maria Sharapova, she defeated several top-20 players: No. 6 Nadia Petrova, No. 11 Jelena Jankovic, No. 12 Nicole Vaidisova and No. 17 Shahar Pe’er.
She was 25 then, though. And she hadn’t had a baby and a really tough post-birth period with complications.
At 36, it’s a significantly bigger challenge.
Not match tough – but is she healthy?
There were photos of her at the Mouratoglou Academy a few weeks ago in which she had some significant tape on her knee. She was fiddling with her right leg during this Friday practice.
But it was hard to tell if something was bothering her, because she didn’t run much.
We’ll find out soon enough just how up she is for it.
In the meantime, she’s got a bitchin’ pair of shoes to wear.
Not only that – she’s got a guy. Among his duties are collecting said blingy shoes, knocking off the terre battue – and storing them neatly in a plastic bag.
The original 1972 Nike Cortez is now available in three dozen models. The blurb for Sharapova’s bespoke design says it exudes “the peacefulness that Sharapova soaks in during her early morning walks on her way to practice.”
Meanwhile, Kei Nishikori got a special delivery: a pair of the Air Jordan model worn by Justin Timberlake at the Super Bowl.
The shoes went on sale online right after the halftime show, selling out in under five minutes. But they saved a pair for Nishikori.
Three promising young Canadian players – 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov, 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime and 20-year-old Françoise Abanda – all Nike endorsers – got together for a photo shoot this week in New York.
At first glance you’re thinking, “Hey, that’s another Canadian in there with them: Genie Bouchard.”
And then you realize it’s not Bouchard at all; it’s Hungary’s Fanni Stollar, 18, another up-and-comer.
But you have to have to look twice.
While Bouchard can’t be considered an up-and-comer any more, the whole concept is a bit … weird.
In a few weeks, when Wimbledon rolls around, the end of the blue period will be upon us.
But until then, we are not yet done with the Nike Blue – Paramount Blue, officially – that was ubiquitous during the clay-court season.
It was a step above the yellow and green neons that fought a valiant battle for supremacy on the Nike players during the Indian Wells-Miami swing a couple of months ago.
But the French Open was absolutely overrun with it.
Here is just a small sample of the protagonists. They ranged from the juniors, to the pro players – even to legends like John McEnroe and Conchita Martiez.
There were two varieties for the women. The basic kit matched up with the shorts worn by the men.
Some of the women were chosen to wear the non-patterned Maria Sharapova kit : Russian juniors Olesya Pervushina and Anastasia Potapova, American Anastasia Anisimova, Croat Alja Tomljanovic and Canadian Françoise Abanda.
But the vestiges from the battling neons era remained.
Where are the blue socks?
It was all about the shoes and socks.
We asked several Nike players why the heck the shoes didn’t match. None of them had an answer; they just wear what they’ve given, or paid to wear.
But one did point this out: “The socks don’t match, either!”
There was a little of the green neon around the trim of the shirts – and of course the Swoosh. But the sock/shoe wardrobe malfunction was definitely out-of-the-box thinking.
They should all have been wearing Nadal’s shoes. And it would have been perfect.
As well, they are also 10 French Open, winning championship shoes. They could even have kept the personalized “Rafa” and No. 9 on the backs of them – just for good karma.
The only outfit that matched the shoes was the black version of the kit, worn by Genie Bouchard.
On a related note, the two junior girls’ finalists and all four girls in the doubles final were tangled up in Nike Paramount blue. So you can see where the future is headed once they all graduate to the pro tour.
KEY BISCAYNE – Rafael Nadal doesn’t know how it happened.
But after coming right out of his shoe as he ran in vain for a brilliant Fabio Fognini drop shot during their Miami Open semi-final Friday, he said during the Spanish part of his post-match media conference that he’s going to have to go video replay to determined what happened.
The Mallorcan seemed perplexed, and maybe a little embarrassed about the incident, which Fognini greatly enjoyed and everyone else got a big kick out of. But in discussing it afterwards, Nadal didn’t really see the humour; it cost him a point, and therefore is a problem that must be handled.