SBD/January 28, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

Sloane Stephens' Rise Provides Boost For Under Armour's Tennis Marketing Potential

Some of Stephens' on-court Under Armour apparel is not available for retail purchase
Tennis player Sloane Stephens after advancing to the Australian Open semifinals last week rose from No. 25 to No. 17 in the WTA World Rankings, which will "generate global exposure to Under Armour, her clothing and shoe sponsor," according to Richard Pagliaro of TENNIS.com. The partnership is an "intriguing pairing of athlete and apparel as Stephens ... is the face of Under Armour tennis -- yet the Baltimore-based brand does not currently manufacture a tennis-specific collection." Pagliaro asked, "How deeply is the brand itself committed to the sport?" Some retailers said that Stephens' run has "piqued interest in the brand." The "versatility of Under Armour's apparel is an asset: A player can use it from the tennis court to the track, and just about any athletic endeavor in between, without multiple changes." But UA faces the challenge of whether it can "leverage one of the most marketable and talented teenagers in the game, engage hardcore recreational players, and sell more clothes without a true tennis-specific collection." Stephens is the "now face" of tennis for UA. However, fans "can’t quite walk in her footsteps -- that’s because the customized purple 'UA MicroG' tennis shoes she wore in Melbourne are not available for retail sale." Stephens is one of four UA athletes "under the age of 22 who will star in nationwide ad campaigns scheduled to start next month." Images for the ads were "shot in December before Stephens' surge Down Under, showing the confidence the brand had in her" (TENNIS.com, 1/25). SI.com's L. Jon Wertheim wrote Stephens was the "breakout star" of the Australian Open. Part of the "excitement and optimism comes from the results: staring down Serena Williams in a Grand Slam quarterfinal is noteworthy." Part of it also comes from "her cork-popping personality," and from "how far she is from maximizing her potential" (SI.com, 1/27).
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