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Volume 22 No. 19
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Nike loosens rules, Chinese players sell patch space

Nike has long had “clean” endorsement contracts, meaning individual sport athletes could not sell space on their apparel to other companies. In tennis, past and present Nike luminaries like Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams have not been allowed to sell corporate logos on their Nike apparel. The now-retired Li Na was the rare exception, as Nike relented after she won the 2011 French Open, allowing her to sign a lucrative deal with Mercedes-Benz so it could still have a native star in the valuable Chinese market.

Now, underscoring that lure, two junior Chinese players under contract with Nike recently sold patch space on their apparel to SAP and to Chinese water company Ganten, respectively: Wu Yibing, who won the boys’ singles title at the 2017 U.S. Open, and Wang Xinyu, who won the 2018 Australian Open junior doubles title with her partner, Liang En-Shuo.

“These are six-figure deals with advertising and marketing,” said Max Eisenbud, head of tennis at IMG, who negotiated both deals as well as Li Na’s patch deal.

Terry Rhoads, founder and CEO of Zou Marketing, a longtime sports executive in China, wrote in an email: “Nike policy to allow Chinese tennis players commercial patches [is] driven strongly by Nike China.

“The China tennis market is one of few bright spots in the global tennis sportswear battles … so if Nike was going to sign the country’s best young tennis hopes, it would have to allow patches or else lose top Chinese player(s) to Adidas, Asics and increasingly strong Chinese brands like Anta or Li-Ning.”

Nike, which is rare among sportswear companies with its no-patch policy, declined to comment.

Nike has also relaxed its no-patch rule for another China tennis partnership, Rhoads wrote. After the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Chinese junior tennis academy, 1123 — named for the date of its 2010 founding — launched and Nike China became its official clothing and footwear supplier. Ping An insurance signed a sponsorship with the academy and for the last seven years, all players representing 1123 have worn Nike apparel and the Ping An corporate patch.

Editor’s note: This story is updated from the print edition.