#360business: Tommy Hilfiger and Rafael Nadal - Smash-hit alliance

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  • Rafael Nadal remains one of only a handful of athletes with genuine global appeal.

    A group of top models, lead star of hit television show Glee, a beautiful New York setting, quintessential American fashion brand and one of the sport’s most famous stars combined in late August to promote a landmark deal.

    The Big Apple’s Bryant Park – a source of tranquillity hidden behind bustling Fifth Avenue – was painted red, blue and white as Tommy Hilfiger celebrated the launch of Rafael Nadal’s global brand ambassadorship. The 29-year-old has been selected to help grow the company’s underwear, tailored and fragrance sections – his image already covering billboards across the globe.

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    Nadal’s 14 grand slam titles has put him in an exclusive club, making him the joint-second-mostsuccessful tennis player of all time. But his latest endorsement has put him in a similarly-rarified group.

    In the 30 years since Tommy Hilfiger was established, only Arsenal and France footballer Thierry Henry had previously been selected as a brand ambassador from the world of sports. Models, musicians, rock stars and actors had been the favoured vehicles to highlight his wares.

    The global apparel market is estimated to be worth $2.11 trillion (Dh7.7 tn) by respected online statistics portal Statista and elite athletes are now some of the most marketable figures around.

    Speaking to Sport360 at a whirlwind press event to promote the agreement with Nadal, Tommy Hilfiger expanded on why he selected the Spaniard.

    Hilfiger said: “For many years, we associated ourselves with musicians, models and Hollywood stars. But because of my relationship with Rafa, I thought if we really want to take the underwear business to another level we need someone who exemplifies the brand in a sporting way.

    “He started wearing my clothes before I even met him, so he authentically likes Tommy Hilfiger.

    “We also wanted to launch a fragrance and tailored clothing at the same time. We built the tailored clothing with stretch in it, which nobody does. The fragrance, at the same time, lifted the whole persona of the brand.”

    PVH Corp currently owns Tommy Hilfiger, the American clothing company estimating global retail sales of products sold with the designer’s name were worth $6.7bn (Dh24.6bn) in 2014.

    Forays into the world of sport have been rare. Tommy Hilfiger sponsored the Lotus Formula One team from 1991-94, following this up by becoming the first non-automotive brand to sponsor Ferrari’s team in 1998. As well as the deal with Henry, Nick Dougherty in 2006 and Keegan Bradley in 2012 agreed to be the faces of Tommy Hilfiger golf apparel.

    Their latest star attracted hundreds of fans to Bryant Park where a big screen displayed the #TommyXRafa hashtag and an appropriately- livered tennis court had been set-up. Models Chanel Iman, Constance Jablonski, Hannah Davis, Noah Mills, Arthur Kulkov and Akin Akman competed with Nadal, with actresses Jane Lynch and Lake Bell hosting the event from the umpire’s seat.

    An advertising campaign had already been revealed just after midnight on August 25 through the brand’s social media channels.

    This deal comes after Nadal endured a nightmare 2015. He dropped out of the world’s top five for the first time in a decade and failed to reach the semi-finals of a grand slam for the first time since 2004 after he made a shock third-round US Open exit to Fabio Fognini when two-sets up 10 days after the Hilfiger gala.

    But Professor Simon Chadwick, Chair in Sport Business Strategy and Marketing at Coventry University and consultant research director at Qatar’s Josoor Institute, believed the arrangement still made sound business sense.

    Rafael Nadal poses in his Tommy Hilfiger suit.

    He said: “Nadal is not in the best form of his career, while in recent years he has retrenched from previous commercial deals like that with Emporio Armani. But his deal with Tommy Hilfiger is likely to run into seven figures (in US dollars). Nadal needs some credibility right now and is surely looking to rebuild his career. If he can turn things around, then Tommy Hilfiger may well have got themselves a bargain.

    “Tennis is one of sport’s truly global properties. For example, in China where tennis is increasingly popular and Tommy Hilfiger is doing good business.

    “In essence, brands look to athletes to help them target and engage specific consumer demographics. Tennis has a particular style and sophistication which the likes of football do not possess.”

    The Spaniard remains in high commercial demand. Financial publication Forbes made him the eighth-highest earning sportsman in endorsement deals during 2015 with $28m (Dh102m) banked from companies such as Nike and Spanish communications giant Telefonica, in a year when his oncourt takings dropped to $4.5m (Dh16.5m) from $14.5m (Dh53.2m) in 2014.

    “You will have to ask the brand why they got involved, but for me it is a real honour to be part of Tommy Hilfiger,” Nadal said. “I feel close to them. I have had a very good relationship with Tommy Hilfiger for a long time.”

    Sport stars have been increasingly used by design houses as a vehicle to mass markets. Football icon David Beckham has led the way with high-profile Emporio Armani and H&M underwear campaigns. Nadal has worked in the same area before, joining up with Armani in 2011.

    Sponsorship consultant Nigel Currie declared the ubiquitous nature of today’s elite athletes makes brands eager to work with them.

    He said: “Nadal has a great body and like H&M with David Beckham, Tommy Hilfiger is looking to capitalise on his fame, recognition and physique.

    “When a star is recognised all over the world, it makes marketing globally much easier and more cost effective. The same posters and adverts can be reproduced for different markets and cultures which have different languages.

    “Hilfiger can expect a major rise in interest and awareness in their brand and products. These multimillion- pound campaigns are hard to set up but once established, are potentially huge for these brands.”

    An explosion of consumerism across the globe has particularly been felt in emerging powers India and China, countries where tennis is growing. The Mahesh Bhupathibacked International Premier Tennis League has broken ground in the former, while the achievements of trailblazing two-time grand-slam winner Li Na has led to an estimated 14m people regularly playing it per year in the latter.

    The emerging middle class in China’s 1.3bn population has seen consulting firm McKinsey & Company put 12 of their top 20 growth cities by 2025 within its territory. For India, the spending power of its consumers was projected by professional services network PwC to reach $1 tn (Dh3.6 tn) by 2021.

    With such gains to be made, reach into developing markets is of key importance for Hilfiger. “The Middle East market is growing and expanding [for Tommy Hilfiger],” he said. “But the most important market is still China. China is growing like a weed, it is fantastic. I would say China, India, Middle East then Brazil.”

    Hilfiger and Nadal will hope for a long and successful partnership, with the benchmark set by golfer Tiger Woods and Nike. The American sportswear giants had a tiny footprint in golf when they hooked up with the then promising starlet in 1996. As Woods went on to attain 14 major titles, their success grew together and in Nike’s 2014 fiscal report golf revenue was $789m.

    “Arguably, the best example of all time is Tiger Woods and Nike,” Chadwick said. “Before Woods, Nike effectively had no golf business. But with Woods’ success, Nike built its golf business on the back of his achievements.”