Iconic partnership between Roger Federer and Nike ends after 20 years—but RF logo will return

Defending Wimbledon champion Roger Federer has left Nike after 20 years for Uniqlo apparel

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After much speculation, rumour, and not a little disbelief, the announcement was timed to perfection: As Roger Federer walked onto Centre Court to begin the defence of his Wimbledon title, at 1pm precisely, the email hit journalists’ in-boxes:

“On behalf of Uniqlo, I am pleased to announce a new and unique partnership formed between Uniqlo and Mr Roger Federer.

And so came to an end one of the most iconic athletic clothing partnerships, one that had lasted the duration of Federer’s senior career. When he won the junior Wimbledon title 20 years ago, it was in Nike, as it has been for all 20 of his 20 Major senior titles.

The Nike swoosh emblazened on the bandana around his forehead has become almost as representative of the most recognisable tennis player of his era as has the RF logo that was soon added to his ‘brand’. No more.

Federer confirmed a few weeks ago that his current contract with Nike had come to an end in March, but that he would continue to wear the brand as long as negotiations continued.

Little by little through his preparations at Wimbledon, however, the Nike logo had become less prominent, except on the shoes that he continues to wear. In his pre-tournament press, he wore a jacket and regular shirt, and at his warm-up practice for that opening match, his t-shirt was completely plain.

Even with all these signs, however, most onlookers did a double-take when the Swiss walked onto court in Japanese Uniqlo kit, the brand worn briefly by Novak Djokovic but predominantly featured on the back of Kei Nishikori.

The press release, timed to the minute—and Federer’s ATP profile changed with equally timely precision—ran:

“Uniqlo, the Japanese global apparel retailer, announces today a partnership with Roger Federer, the greatest tennis player of all-time and one of the world’s most influential and universally admired people, as its newest Global Brand Ambassador.

“The new partnership means that Mr Federer will represent Uniqlo at all tennis tournaments throughout the year, starting with The Championships, Wimbledon 2018.”

Commenting on the announcement, the company’s Founder Tadashi Yanai, said:

“Mr Federer is one of the greatest champions in history; my respect for him goes beyond sport.

“Our partnership will be about innovation on and off court. We share a goal of making positive change in the world, and I hope together we can bring the highest quality of life to the greatest number of people. Uniqlo will help Mr Federer continue taking tennis to new places, while exploring innovations in a number of areas including technology and design with him.”

In tune with Federer’s on-court rebranding, his players’ box was replete with a range of his sponsors: Uniqlo, a cap bearing the Barilla logo—an Italian pasta producer—and another for the Laver Cup, a tournament spearheaded by Federer.

The value of this latest clothing tie-in is rumoured to be in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars, and to last almost certainly beyond the current career of the man who will turn 37 next month. Naturally, though, Federer was unwilling to disclose any such contract details, though there is still some negotiation going on.

Uniqlo do not currently produce specialist footwear, so Federer he will continue to wear the tried and tested Nike for the time being:

“I don’t have a shoe deal. I’m looking forward to see what shoes I will be wearing in the near future. For now, I will be wearing Nike. They have shown interest to have a shoe deal with me, as well. Ties are not broken there, I have deep roots with Nike. I’ve had a great relationship over the last 20 years.”

Yet he left the door open for other options, too:

“Everything is open. Yeah, it’s very exciting also again to see what’s out there, who wants to do something with me.”

Finally, he addressed the fate of his own RF logo. He has sold millions of red caps featuring that logo in aid of his Foundation, and clearly hopes to reclaim his ownership of it in the near future.

“Yes, the RF logo is with Nike at the moment, but it will come to me at some point. I hope rather sooner than later, that Nike can be nice and helpful in the process to bring it over to me. It’s also something that was very important for me, for the fans really.

“Look, it’s the process. But the good news is that it will come with me at one point. They are my initials, they are mine. In a short period of time, it will come to me.

“Obviously we also need to figure out with Uniqlo when we can start selling clothes for the public as well…We’re hopeful the beginning of next year people can also start buying my stuff. For the moment, as fast at retailing as they are, as great as they are, it just needs a bit of time.”

It is certainly hard to imagine that he will want that particular funding stream for the Federer Foundation to be closed for too long.

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