Photo : WTA
In tennis, Iga Swiatek is the World No. 1.
And in the apparel brand rankings, On is no. 12, maybe?
So why did the top player team up with such a rookie for a financial doubles match? Although money remains a remarkably convincing argument when trying to win someone over, a certain degree of expertise is still required.
What if On turned out to be the retelling of an old story? What if On was to tennis what the Jordan brand is to basketball through its ties to one of the greatest basketballers of all time?
First, some context.
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If you’ve been paying attention to the WTA and ATP matches you’ve been watching, you already know that On is pretty low in the pecking order of tennis shoe and apparel brands like Nike, adidas, Asics, FILA, Yonex, Head, Lacoste, Babolat, Lotto, New Balance and Uniqlo.
The new partnership between Iga and the Swiss performance footwear and sportwear company likely marks the start of what could be called the second growth phase to make On a contender for the top 10 and even the top 5 tennis brands.
The last brand and the No.1 player. A brilliant yet logical choice considering there’s no better way to gain visibility than by sticking with the person who gets most of it. Or, at least, a lot of it.
I wrote about a similar story in January 2022, when Gaël Monfils became the most famous spokesperson for the French brand Artengo, which is barely known outside France.
On was founded in 2010 by Ironman champ Olivier Bernhard, David Allemann and Caspar Coppetti. It was initially focused on triathletes, especially with its patented CloudTec shoe cushioning technology.
In 2019, Roger Federer became the company’s fourth investor, and On launched The Roger sneaker a year later. With a partner of his calibre, it was only a matter of time before On entered the tennis market.
When Federer walked out onto the Wimbledon lawn wearing a shoe developed in his native Switzerland, On took its first steps towards broader brand recognition.
But it couldn’t only rely on Roger, who was slowed by injuries and on the brink of retirement, to get its name out there. To compete with the heavy hitters, On is now banking on current tennis stars and up-and-comers.
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On announced its partnership with Iga Swiatek ahead of the Miami Open (WTA 1000). She was going to be wearing the Roger Pro, as well a custom shoe designed to meet her specific needs.
And like a lot of brands that don’t make racquets (Nike, adidas, Asics, FILA and Lacoste, for instance), On kitted her out in its logo from head to toe.
Unfortunately, a rib injury kept Iga out of the tournament just when she was about to debut her new outfits.
At the very same time, On announced a similar deal with young talent Ben Shelton. As soon as he received his new gear, the 19-year-old American let the world know on Twitter with the tagline Swiss engineering.
It’ll be a few months before fans get their hands on Swiatek and Shelton’s tennis apparel, since On is currently working to meet the pros’ footwear needs on the different courts before tackling the retail market.
Talented as they are, these two young players make for a shy pair as the spokespersons for a brand that’s as young as they are. Especially considering the size of Nike and adidas’ tennis teams.
RF AND MJ In 2014
On a different note but still on the same topic, Roger Federer and Michael Jordan collaborated on their tennis shoe nearly nine years ago.
In 2014, Roger wanted to wear Air Jordans at the US Open. No sooner had he mentioned it than Nike delivered a shoe based on the Air Jordan 3.
This is a pair of Zoom Vapor 9 AJ3—the same ones Federer wore at the 2014 US Open, where he was toppled by eventual champion Marin Cilic in the semis.
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Michael Jordan was in the stands for Roger’s first-round fight against Marinko Matosevic of Australia. It was His Airness’ very first tennis match, and he gave an interesting live interview with former pro Mary Joe Fernandez.
Sports icons often collide at events and in ads, but a collaboration through a side activity like shoe design was an event in itself.
And because gifted athletes have a certain admiration for their fellow gifted athletes, this 2014 Instagram post came as no surprise.
While we’re strolling down memory lane, let’s not forget that the post was Roger’s very first on Insta. He even asked “How’d I do?” at the end of it.
Looks like he met his match with Michael Jordan.
AIR JORDAN ORIGIN STORY
It isn’t a coincidence: I got the idea for this blog when I read about the release of the film Air. But I’d noticed the parallels between Jordan and Federer’s ventures a while ago.
Of course, their paths are different.
Nike and Michael Jordan teamed up early on in his career, while the On deal happened when Federer was about to move away from tennis. There’s no way On could expand without the Federer name, while Jordan grew into Nike’s most famous sub-brand through a partnership between a corporation that was third in the basketball market and a player who was just starting out in the NBA.
I may be daydreaming as I type this, but the best stories often have unexpected starting points.
In the meantime, there’s nothing stopping us from thinking back to the genesis of the Air Jordan to imagine what On might become.
Twitter : @paul6rivard
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