Celebrity endorsements are incredibly important for apparel brands, with sportspeople in particular paid bucketloads to wear their clothes.
Nike and Adidas are inarguably the big dogs of the sportswear world and drop serious cash to help keep them on top of the pile: Nike has spent billions keeping LeBron James and Cristiano Ronaldo in their fold, whilst Adidas has found success with names like Lionel Messi, Ellyse Perry and Angelique Kerber. Signature sneaker models like the Nike Air Jordan and Adidas Stan Smith have transcended their sporting origins and become genuine fashion icons, too.
Getting an endorsement from either Herzogenaurach or Beaverton used to be a dream for athletes, but in 2020 more and more sportsmen and women are eschewing the big two in favour of deals with smaller players – with Switzerland’s greatest export since the Omega Speedmaster leading the charge.
Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer’s latest partnership with rising sportswear brand On has been a huge paradigm shift for athlete endorsements. Federer’s deal with the Swiss brand is more than just your usual endorsement, too – Federer has invested an undisclosed sum into the company and appears to be taking a fairly active role in the business beyond just advertising.
On has quickly gained a cult following among runners for the quality of their sneakers, but On’s latest exploit is a signature model for Federer. As opposed to a tennis court-focused shoe or the high-performance runners the brand has built its reputation on, “The Roger” is a classic white sneaker especially designed for casual comfort that’s been given a special limited release. It’s an adroit marketing tactic for the brand; one that’s been used by the big players before to drum up hype: artificial scarcity + celebrity endorsement + novel technology = shoes selling like hotcakes.
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Getting Federer on board was a masterstroke for On. Not only does he have a strong personal brand underpinned by immense skill, integrity and likeableness, but as an investor as well as an endorser, he’ll work hard to ensure the brand continues to succeed.
The advantage that a small brand like On has over the big traditional players (Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Reebok, Lacoste etc.) is that they can devote more time and care to their athletes. When Federer was with Nike, he shared the spotlight with other tennis players like Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Simona Halep and Nick Kyrgios. Now, he can demand On’s undivided attention.
Other athletes have also explored alternative sponsors for collaboration. British tennis great Andy Murray recently inked a deal with British clothing brand Castore, and NBA superstar Steph Curry’s deal with Under Armour has done wonders for both him and the UA brand.
It has also forced the more established sportswear brands to up their game in regards to what they can offer athletes. Without trying to come off too libertarian, this sort of healthy free-market competition will ultimately improve the technologies that underpin modern sportswear and lead to a better product for both athletes and consumers.
Game, set, match.