Japan’s No. 1 tennis player Kei Nishikori’s historic run at the Australian Open won a torrent of publicity for sponsor Fast Retailing Co. (9983), attention Sony Corp. (6758) and Adidas AG (ADS) missed by not renewing endorsement deals.
Japan’s public broadcaster NHK purchased the rights to air Nishikori’s Australian Open match yesterday, boosting the estimated TV audience to 55 million viewers in Japan, after the 22-year-old defeated No. 6 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to win a berth in the quarterfinals. Nishikori lost the match to No. 4 seed Andy Murray, after becoming the first Japanese man in 80 years to reach the $12 million tournament’s final eight.
“The marketing effect of this endorsement is worth tens of billions of yen,” said Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-Ichi Life Insurance Research Institute in Tokyo.
Fast Retailing, which cut its annual sales growth forecast for Japan last week to 0.7 percent, has said the company benefits from its relationship with the athlete, even though it has resisted calls to market a tennis line. Uniqlo is getting “a lot of requests, more than ever” from consumers seeking to buy the shirts, shorts and hats Nishikori wears, said Masahide Sakamoto, a Uniqlo adviser who travels with the 178-centimeter (5’10’’) right-hander to tournaments.
Adidas Less ‘Aggressive’
“The fact that their phones are ringing is exactly why Kei is doing endorsement deals that are much larger than for the average tennis player,” said Olivier Van Lindonk, Nishikori’s agent and tennis vice president at IMG Worldwide Inc. He said the Uniqlo endorsement proposal was “more aggressive” than Adidas’s, while he declined to disclose the value of the agreement.
Adidas Japan spokesman Yoshitaka Ikeuchi was not available for immediate comment.
Nishikori, the son of a piano teacher and an engineer in Shimane prefecture, Japan, started playing the game at age 5, and at 14 was selected to train at the IMG Academy Bollettieri tennis program under sponsorship of the Masaaki Morita Tennis Fund established by Sony Life Insurance Co.’s former chief executive officer.
After recovering from elbow surgery in 2009, Nishikori returned to a top-100 ranking in 2010, then last year defeated world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in December. Nishikori finished the year ranked 25th.
“The ripple effects for sponsors when athletes do well are huge,” said Nagahama of Dai-Ichi Life.
Sony Misses Out
Sony, after helping Nishikori get started, isn’t getting the full “ripple” now that Nishikori has become the highest- ranked Japanese men’s tennis player on record.
The consumer electronics maker, which has said it intends to cut costs after posting a third annual loss last fiscal year, allowed an endorsement deal with Nishikori to expire Nov. 13.
Adidas, which has endorsements with players including Tsonga and Murray, lost the Nishikori clothing deal to Uniqlo last year, Van Lindonk said in a telephone interview. Nishikori and IMG chose Uniqlo partly because it offered “greater long- term potential for Kei to earn money,” Van Lindonk said.
“Uniqlo can become a partner for Kei for a long time, even after his playing days are over,” Van Lindonk said. He said the company may eventually develop a Kei Nishikori line or Kei Nishikori brand within the brand.
“It’s more something that’s going to build over the years,” Van Lindonk said.
Clamor for Nishikori’s gear is also helping Wilson Sporting Goods Co. promote its rackets. Nishikori uses Wilson’s Steam model and will begin selling a special limited edition in Japan only in March or April.
“At the end of the day, we’re building a brand and long- term value,” Van Lindonk said. “It’s not about cashing quick checks.”
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