Shirt sponsors in tennis: from Peugeot to Mary Cohr to ROKiT
Are shirt sponsors in tennis just as common as in football? It seems not. Strict regulations limit the size of the logos, so the branding is definitely less visible than in football.
But how many tennis players really have a shirt sponsor? Is there a difference between men and women? And which companies invest in such sponsorships?
Tennis shirt sponsors: men versus women
To analyse the shirt sponsors in elite tennis we have taken a look at the top 30 male and female singles players (still active) with the highest amount of career price money (as of July 1st 2019 according to the ATP and WTA). There is a clear difference between men and women. Among the 30 highest earners on the ATP tour, 20 are playing with at least one commercial (non-manufacturer) brand on their shirt. This is more than double the eight out of 30 players among the women.
On the men’s tour the commercial brands are often visible on the sleeves. Women, often wearing sleeveless tops or dresses, mostly show the brands on the front.
So what explains the differences in shirt sponsors between men and women? First off, the women’s tour has stricter rules. In 2019 the logos can only be 26 square centimetres on shirts/tops for women, while men can have up to 39 square centimetres.
Women are also allowed a maximum of two logos whether it is on the sleeves or front. Men in contrast are allowed two commercial or manufacturing logos on either sleeve. On the women side we therefore never see more than two commercial logos, while some men have up to four commercial logos on their shirt.
Both can have a commercial logo on a hat or headband as long as it is on the side of the head. However, women can only have 19.5 square centimetres, while 26 square centimetres is the max for men.
The smaller dimensions and fewer logos allowed make it harder for sponsors to be visible on the women’s tour compared to the men’s. This could explain why fewer brands are active as shirt sponsor of women. Another reason might be the relative popularity of the two tours. Brands likely have the feeling, whether that is justified or not, that they have a bigger reach when sponsoring a male player compared to a female player.
The Big Four and ‘established’ names
When looking at the Big Four on the men’s side (Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal), only Djokovic has a shirt sponsor. Since the beginning of 2019 he dons ‘Ultimate Software’ on his sleeve. All four have a personal logo, which is often visible on the sleeves.
Wawrinka, sometimes named among these four, has multiple shirt sponsors. At times the Swiss has up to four different brands on his Yonex shirt, in addition to his trademark slogan (logo) ‘Stan The Man’.
On the women’s side many ‘established’ names, bar Angelique Kerber and Karolina Pliskova, have no shirt sponsors. Naomi Osaka and Ashley Barty, who are both young and relatively new to the top, have two shirt sponsors. Both are marketable talents with a great market (Japan/USA and Australia respectively) behind them.
Clothing sponsors like Nike and Adidas will often insert a contract clause prohibiting players from having any other branding on their clothes. In return players receive a higher monetary sum. This explains why not all top players have a shirt sponsor.
What brands are active as shirt sponsor?
There is a broad range of brands active as shirt sponsor in tennis. There are online trading platforms, food and beverage entities, software companies, car manufacturers, financial and insurance companies and national (and local) non-profit organisations.
Three brands jump out: Peugeot, ROKiT and Guinot/Mary Cohr.
French car manufacturer Peugeot is an active partner of the tennis industry, sponsoring several tournaments and players. They have launched some major marketing campaigns (e.g. Drive to Tennis and NEXTisHERE) around their large portfolio of male players.
They no longer sponsor Djokovic, but they still work with players like Alexander Zverev, Del Potro and Verdasco. Not all their ambassadors have the Peugeot brand on their shirts.
Global telecommunications company, ROKiT, is brand new to tennis sponsoring. In May 2019 the company announced multi-year sponsorship agreements with Johanna Konta, Gaël Monfils, Stan Wawrinka, Sam Querrey and Danielle Collins. Big names for a relatively unknown brand, but the goal is to invest in star players along with other high profile athletes and sports organisations to increase brand recognition around the world.
Guinot and Mary Cohr
Guinot and Mary Cohr are two connected brands taking a different approach to tennis sponsorship. They are often visible on centre court, but not per se by sponsoring top players. Their strategy is to sponsor the players playing seeded players on show courts. So you often see a lower-ranked player having the Guinot and/or Mary Cohr logo on their sleeves for just one match.
Despite the diversity among the shirt sponsors, not all companies are allowed. The rules prohibit companies associated with tennis gambling and tobacco to feature on players clothing.
The need for shirt sponsors
Not all players ‘need’ a shirt sponsor. A player has to be good enough (read visible enough) to be an attractive property for sponsors. At the same time the highest on-court earners do not need the income. Players like Federer, Nadal, Nishikori and Djokovic do not need a shirt sponsor. They earn enough on court, but also in non-shirt endorsements. Nishikori and Djokovic both have shirt sponsors, while Federer and Nadal do not (likely due to a clause in their contract). This does not mean that the latter two have no visible sponsors during matches. You only have to look at the players’ box to see which brands they partner with. The entourage is often wearing hats with a sponsor logo (or personal or business logo).
Where clothing sponsors are generally for multiple years, there seems to be a higher turnover for shirt sponsors. To limit constant changes, there are rules in place. For example ATP players are not allowed to add new commercial logos to their shirt after the US Open and for any other changes they need approval from the governing body.
Strict rules, but they are in place to ensure that tennis players will not become walking advertisements and will not interfere with tournament and media sponsorships. A look at the shirt sponsors of high on-court earners shows that more men than women have a shirt sponsor. Yet both groups have sponsors from all kinds of industries and from all over the world.