Open semifinal Saturday, there will already be one clear winner Uniqlo.
Both players will walk on court wearing the logo of the Japanese casual clothing company, giving the brand a huge payoff for what seemed like a risky sponsorship gamble on tennis over the last three years. After all, Uniqlo is still known more for jeans, khakis and knit shirts than Air Jordan 2011 sports apparel.
“We’re obviously very happy and proud,” said Larry Meyer, chief executive officer of Uniqlo USA. “The buzz we’re getting on social media alone has been incredible.”
Uniqlo, a subsidiary of Fast Retailing Co., is owned by Japan’s richest man, Tadashi Yanai, listed by Forbes as worth $16.5 billion. His goal is to make Uniqlo the top clothing chain in the world and he is well on his way, with more than 1,400 stores, mostly in the Far East, and huge flagships in Shanghai, Tokyo and New York.
Yanai raised eyebrows two years ago when he signed the endorsement deal with Djokovic, who had worn Sergio Tacchini, despite the fact Uniqlo was not known for athletic wear and had only one other major tennis player on its roster, the homegrown Nishikori, who had worn Adidas. They are still the only tour players who wear the red and white Uniqlo patch.
The only other major athlete signed by Air Jordan 10s Uniqlo is golfer Adam Scott. Open semifinals in 96 years.
“What succeeds in branding are great Air Jordan 11s stories and Nishikori has a great story. He’s an underdog,” Adamson said. “It’s far more relevant from a marketing standpoint than the same old, same old. . Just another athlete wearing the Nike swoosh.”
Nishikori is listed by Forbes as the ninth highest earning tennis player in 2014, a roster headed by Jordan Retro 8 Roger Federer with prize money and endorsements totaling $56.2 million. Forbes puts Nishikori’s annual take at $11 million a year, with endorsement deals with Wilson, Tag Heuer and Nissin noodles, among others.
“His potential in Japan alone is huge,” he said.
Uniqlo’s Meyer acknowledged Saturday’s semifinal will Air Jordan 5s indeed be a historic moment for the company, a chance to “align our brand with the people who are the best.” But he refused to say if owner Yanai will fly in to witness it himself.