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Tennis survey
August/September 2010

Do iconic tennis stars

sell tennis rackets?

Maybe — maybe not, was the verdict of the respondents to a Sports Trader survey of first tennis team players at school*. It is possible that aspirations are inspired by the world’s top players but this does not always translate into recognition or even sales. NELLE DU TOIT reports on the interesting results of our survey

To sponsor one of the world’s top tennis players can cost millions of dollars. The expectation is that the player will then help to recoup this investment by helping to sell rackets. Is this a realistic expectation?

Do high profile racket sponsorships sell rackets and create more recognition for the brand? The brands, the players and their agents will say yes, without a doubt. Sports Trader decided to test this theory.

We worked from the premise that if no one knows that a specific brand is sponsoring a player, the sponsorship might as well not even exist. Recognition of the racket that the player uses must therefore be high.

We also believe that consumers need to like a particular tennis star if they will be influenced to buy a specific brand. Popularity of the player must therefore be high. We then compared the recognition and popularity of the players with the brands the respondents play with, to test if Recognition + Popularity = Sales.

Sometimes factors like the price or availability in retail stores may prevent consumers from buying a tennis racket brand they want. But, if they at least dream of owning a particular racket, the sponsorship could generate future sales. We also tested which players built brands through aspiration.

High and primary school learners are supposed to be the most brand conscious consumers, and the most avid followers of sport stars. We therefore sent a questionnaire to first team tennis players at high and primary schools across the country. Despite the teachers’ strike that disrupted so many schools, we received 228 responses from 42 schools and two tennis clubs.

We asked them to name the racket brand with which the top 5 ATP and WTA players play with, as we argued that dedicated tennis players would know the world’s best players. To test the impact of local players, we also asked them to name the racket brands of doubles champions Wesley Moodie (South Africa) and Cara Black (Zimbabwe).

We asked them to name their favourite player, and what racket he/she plays with. They were also asked which racket they currently play with — and the racket they would ultimately like to play with, if money was no option.

The top 5 ATP players at the time of the survey were Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Robin Soderling. The top 5 WTA players were Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic, Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Samantha Stosur. Since then Samantha Stosur moved down to sixth place and Kim Clijsters moved up to third.

Recognition

Roger Federer and the Williams sisters had the highest recognition, with a high percentage of respondents being aware of the tennis brand they play with (all Wilson). Less than two-thirds, however, know that the flamboyant reigning ATP champion Rafael Nadal plays with a Babolat racket.

Even though one might think that young players would watch the players with local ties — especially as they often feature in doubles finals of Grand Slam tournaments — Wesley Moodie (Head) and Cara Black (Babolat) generated the least recognition for their sponsors, with 12% and 7.5% of the respondents knowing which brands they play with.

Some players clearly made a study of the players and their rackets — naming the exact models they play with.

Know what brand play:

  • Roger Federer 83% (Wilson)
  • Venus Williams 70% (Wilson)
  • Serena Williams 68% (Wilson)
  • Rafael Nadal 57% (Babolat)
  • Novak Djokovic 40% (Head)
  • Andy Murray 38% (Head)
  • Robin Soderling 35% (Head)
  • Jelena Jankovic 32% (Prince)
  • Caroline Wozniak 22% (Babolat)
  • Amanda Stosur 20% (Babolat)
  • Wesley Moodie 12% (Head)
  • Cara Black 7.50% Babolat
  • Popularity

    Roger Federer (43%) and Rafael Nadal (35%) are clearly the favourite tennis stars as they were the only players who were named as the favourite by more than 10% of the respondents. The young players named 36 different players as their favourites — but apart from Serena Williams (named by 7%), none of the others have a significant following amongst our respondents.

    Favourite player:

  • Roger Federer 43% (Wilson)
  • Rafael Nadal 35% (Babolat)
  • Serena Williams 7% (Wilson)
  • Maria Sharapova 2% (Prince)
  • Novak Djokovic 2% (Head)
  • Andy Murray 2% (Head)
  • Venus Williams 2% (Wilson)
  • Justine Henin 1% (Wilson)
  • Andy Roddick 1% (Babolat)
  • Robin Soderling 1% (Head)

  • Of the respondents who named Nadal as their favourite player, only 65% of them knew that he played with Babolat — whereas 84% of players who are Federer fans knew he played with Wilson. Slightly more than half (54%) of the players who like the third most popular player, WTA #1 Serena Williams, knew she played with Wilson.

    Federer is therefore not only the most popular player amongst these youngsters, they are also very aware of the tennis racket he plays with — whether he is their favourite player or not. One could therefore expect that Federer would sell rackets.

    His rival, Nadal, on the other hand, generates much less racket brand recognition for his sponsor, Babolat — even amongst those who say he is their favourite player.

    The Williams sisters deliver high brand recognition (about 70%), but not necessarily among their fans — nearly 50% of the players who say Serena is their favourite player don’t know what racket brand she plays with.

    Recognition + Popularity = Sales?

    So, based on the above information: do tennis stars sell rackets?

    The largest number of these top school players play with Wilson rackets (26%). This is Federer’s racket. He scores the highest on recognition and popularity, and one can therefore assume that he sells rackets.

    “In 2004 when Roger Federer started to win everything, we saw an increase of 700% in 6.1 Pro racket sales,” says Brad Summers of Wilson.

    “I think (the success of a sponsorship) depends on the consistency of sponsoring top players — as Wilson have done over the years,” says Summers. A longer history of player sponsorship ingrains the awareness into a young player’s mind.

    Prince is the racket brand owned by the second highest number of players (20%). Jelena Jankovic and Maria Sharapova are the two high profile players linked to the brand, but Jankovic only generates 32% brand recognition, and Sharapova is the favourite player of only 2% respondents.

    But, although Sharapova, currently ranked #16, was not included in the list of top #5 WTA players, respondents noted that her name was missing and asked why she was not included in the list. “Maria Sharapova, the popular former winner of Wimbledon, the Australian Open and the US Open, has for long been the face of Prince rackets, who helped drive sales,” says Roberto Vaglietti of Prince. Yet, it is not possible to say with conviction that these players sell Prince rackets.

    Head is owned by the third highest number of respondents (15%). Recognition for the three Head players among the top #5 ATP players is not very high — Novak Djokovic 40%; Andy Murray 38%; and Robin Soderling 35% — and their popularity ratings are fairly low — 2% and 1%.

    This is followed by the 13% respondents who play with Dunlop rackets. Some of the world’s top players, like Nikolay Davydenko, Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdascvo, are sponsored by Dunlop. But none of respondents named them as a favourite. Although sponsorship of top players cannot account for Dunlop’s sales other initiatives, like the Dunlop D squad that promotes and develops young tennis players, could account for a more sustainable brand in the eye of consumers.

    Tecnifibre is the brand that the fifth most respondents bought (8.5%). Again, top player recognition and popularity cannot account for sales of this brand.

    Babolat and Pro Kennex are owned by the sixth highest number of respondents — namely 6% of them. With high profile players like #1 Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Caroline Wozniaki and Amanda Stosur promoting the brand, one would not expect Babolat sales to first team tennis players to be on par with Pro Kennex — a brand sold mainly through a discount chain. The recognition and popularity of these top players therefore do not translate into a comparable percentage of Babolat racket sales in SA.

    Aspirations

    But, what do the young players aspire to play with if money was no object?

    Most of the players (41%) said they would like to play with a Wilson racket. A high 65% of the players currently playing with Wilson also say this is their aspirational racket brand.

    This is followed by 24% who want to play with Babolat. The low number of players owning Babolat (6%) vs the much higher number aspiring to play with the brand, shows a sales potential that is clearly not being tapped into in the SA market. Only 14% of the players who aspire to own the brand actually play with it.

    Head is the brand that 11% of the players aspire to play with — and 48% of those that aspire to play with the brand, already do.

    Prince, the ultimate brand for 10% of the players, commands strong loyalty as 52% of the aspirants already play with the brand.

    The respondents who aspire to play with Dunlop, Maxed, Pro Kennex and Rox Pro and all currently play with these rackets. The fact that a Western Cape respondent said that if he could have his pick over any racket in the world, he would remain playing with his Rox Pro racket, indicates that Rox Pro’s promotion of junior tennis in the Western Cape and the Boland has been successful.

    Why players choose a brand

    From the above one thing is clear: there is no clear-cut answer.

    Different players have different reasons for aspiring to own a racket, or buying one.

    It was obvious from the high number of learners in some schools playing with the same brand of racket — especially in primary schools — that coaches or other members of their squad had an influence on the racket brand they bought. According to Oliver Ciganek of Tecnifibre a coach is extremely influential when school-level players choose a racket.

    Others admit to player influence. One player noted that even though she does not play with a Yonex racket, her favourite tennis player, Maria Kirilenko, plays with Yonex and therefor Yonex would be her ultimate racket brand of choice if no logistics stood in her way.

    Others believe that a specific racket could provide a player with the upper-hand, whether they are a fan or not. Some aspire to own Federer’s racket even though Federer was not named as their favourite player. Having won 16 Grand Slam titles, 4 ATP World Tour Finals titles in 5 years, reached 27 ATP World Tour 1000 finals and was the first man to be ranked world no.1 for 4 consecutive years (2004-2008), it is easy to see why young tennis players could believe that he has some sort of an advantage playing with his racket.

    Yet, despite the fact that Rafael Nadal is currently sweeping all opposition out of his way in a quest to remain at the top — and is a media favourite to boot — his sponsorship is not selling rackets in SA. Could this be attributed to the fact that Babolat is available in so few SA retail stores?

    Playing ability is not so much of a factor when it comes to recognition of player’s racket brand, nor is local affiliation (although his maternal tie could be a factor in Roger Federer’s popularity). When we asked respondents to name the racket used by Wesley Moodie, SA’s top ranked doubles player, more respondents thought he played with Wilson or Prince than the Head racket he actually plays with. The same happened with Cara Black, a top ranked female Zimbabwean doubles player. More respondents guessed that she plays with Wilson or Prince than the Babolat racket she actually plays with. This was a month after these players faced each other in the mixed doubles final at Wimbledon.

    The lack of sponsorship awareness is not just a pattern reserved for doubles players, two of the world’s top singles players had sponsorships that were not recognised by many players either. Only 22% respondents knew that WTA #2 Caroline Wozniacki plays with Babolat, and 20% know that WTA #6 Amanda Stosur play with Babolat.

    A good marketing strategy that undoubtedly links a brand with a player is the only way a player will sell rackets for that brand. Availability of the brand in retail stores has time and again proved to be an important part in accumulating sales as many purchasing decisions are made in store (where a number of optional rackets are on display).

    What the survey did reveal, however, is that young school-going first team tennis players had different motivations for wanting to own a specific racket — some were swayed by their coaches, others by the brands’ involvement in developing local players, some remained loyal to the brand they currently play with and many were swayed by sponsorships of top international stars.

    *First team players from 42 high and primary schools and 2 tennis clubs from all over the country responded — overall 228 learners. A considerable number, considering that the survey was conducted right in the middle of the teacher’s strike and the tennis season for school children had not yet began.

    As an incentive to encourage learners to complete the questionnaire, several tennis brands offered rackets as prizes in a lucky draw:

  • Head Microgel Extreme Team racket. Head rackets are used by 3 of the top 5 players in the world.

  • Prince EXO 3 Black as used on tour by Maria Sharapova.

  • Rox Pro XF 5.2 100% power graphite racket. As with all Rox-Pro rackets all these great features are included at an affordable price making Rox Pro a must have.

  • Wilson BLX Pro Tour racket as used on tour by Juan Martin Del Potro.


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