(Machine translation from German)

Roger Federer: Sport becomes a minor matter

Stefan Barmettler, Ralph Pöhner 26.08.2021

Everything talks about Roger Federer, the tennis star – and forgets that he has long since evolved. Namely to the first-class businessman.

If Roger Federer appears somewhere as a star guest, then he takes his time until the end to offer the photographers the desired material with a friendly smile before he gets into the limousine. But it can happen that he suddenly bucks: if the wrong model is there. Because he would never get into any car. It has to be a Mercedes-Benz.

Such behavior would be eccentricity at best and outrageous arrogance at worst for all other sports stars. With Roger Federer, it's something else: professionalism. The tennis player is a brand ambassador for the Silver Star, so he doesn't let himself be photographed with any other automobile. Never.

Delivery reliability

The example shows why the Swiss is now one of the ten highest-paid athletes in the world. Roger Federer was not only super successful in a glamorous sport for two decades. He does not only shine through his forehand inside-out, but he is a business partner with the highest delivery reliability.

If he wins a tournament, he pulls a model from sponsor Rolex over his wrist before the trophy is handed over. When he goes to an advertising shoot, he has all the time for all the takes the director wants. If fans want an autograph or a selfie, they get it. And if somewhere in the wild sports world another affair rises and a scandal breaks out, then one is certainly not there: Roger Federer. The good Swiss.

With this attitude, he managed better than any other sports star to become a croesus away from criticism. His assets are between 600 and 700 million francs (according to the estimate of the "balance sheet"),it should soon reach 1 billionwith the IPO of the sports shoe brand On. And he has invested some of the money in magnificent real estate (Valbella, Kempraten, Wollerau) and tax-advantaged locations (Herrliberg, Dubai) without Jusos protesting or critical journalists dismantling his tax optimization model.

Rather, the Roger Federer paradox grew out of it: his nimbus is growing, his value as a global brand is increasing, even if he is less and less able to fight his way to the winner's podium on the tennis court.

The sum of his ATP prize money in the current year, as of August, amounts to a rather modest 647,655 dollars, and it will hardly be much more because of his knee injury. At the same time, his advertising income in 2021 – according to data from the business magazine "Forbes" – will reach 90 million dollars so far.

Overall, it is already clear: Roger Federer, who celebrated his fortieth birthday on August 8, will remain in the status of a mega-influencer even after his tennis court career – a figure like Michael Jordan or David Beckham, who still make expensive advertising figures from Shanghai to São Paulo, even if today's A-Juniors hardly know what the guys on the poster were known for.

RF, as he is acronym, means stability and brand loyalty. He has "ambassador" contracts with companies such as Credit Suisse, Jura, Lindt & Sprüngli, Mercedes, Moët & Chandon, Netjets, Barilla or Rolex – i.e. mostly luxury and premium brands – and these partnerships are designed for terms of at least ten years.

Where other sports cannons run after the "almost buck" and like Cristiano Ronaldo give their name for an ordinary car chassis polish, Federer insists on level and sustainability. The advertised brand must correspond to its own ideal image.

Global Switzerland

This is also appreciated by the house bank Credit Suisse, which even reveals a real trade secret in newspaper advertisements on Federer's milestone birthday – and with the consent of the jubilee, as the bank notes: "Today we are particularly proud to have been your bank for forty years." Which can only be read in such a way that brand loyalty is already given to him from the cradle.

And lo and behold: At birth, a CS savings account was founded in his name, which is likely to overflow today.

"Listen, Roger, you're from a small country, but it's a great country with wonderful global brands," Tony Godsick, his current manager, told him at the first meeting in the summer of 2005.

"You're global, you have to make deals with global brands." And consequently – as Godsick told the German "Tennis Magazin" – he has also rejected a number of sponsors who broadcast something different from Roger Federer.

At the same time, he shifted the focus of his business relationships away from local brands to potent mega-brands – from Maurice Lacroix to Rolex, from Helvetia to Barilla.

RF wants to be more than a figurehead. For him, "partnership" is not just a PR term, but it means business relationship to him. When he joined the running shoe company On, this was definitely visible or tangible under stock corporation law. But at its core, it had been laid out for some time under the guidance of marketing professional Tony Godsick. Roger Federer is not an athlete who delegates the thought work to a team of supervisors to focus on mobility workouts and training sessions.

Where Federer, there billionaires

"You sell me well, but I sell myself better, so let's start a joint company," he announced to his manager after about four years of cooperation.

Godsick, at that time still in the service of the major sports agency IMG, then founded the agency Team 8 Sports & Entertainment around his protégé.

The joint management boutique based in Ohio now serves other players; she invested in a social media platform for tennis amateurs; or she launched the laver Cup men's tournament – with ex-tennis player and brewery billionaire Jorge Paulo Lemann, Federer's neighbor in Kempraten on Lake Zurich, among others. Lemann, on the other hand, introduced it to Bill Gates, with whom he sprints across the clay court for the charity project Match for Africa.

Because where the tennis player does business, other financial giants are not far away, which give the deals even more leverage.

New York hedge fund magnates Dirk Edward Ziff and Ian McKinnon are also involved in Team 8. His wealth advisors include Walter "Wädi" Berchtold, long-time head of private banking at Credit Suisse. And the financial world network is complemented by the wealthy clientele of the American executive airline Netjets, from which Federer can be piloted across all continents as a brand ambassador. Roger and Netjets, the otherwise secretive high-end company announces, that this is "The winning formula for success".

Telling for his style was the change to the sports clothing brand Uniqlo in 2018 – after Federer had been dressed by Nike since the beginning of his career, so for almost two decades. The separation came from the US sports giant and stunned everyone.

To date, neither Nike nor Team Federer has provided an explanation; but it may have played a role that the tennis major was already 37 years old when his contract was due to be extended that summer.

Test case Uniqlo

Uniqlo, in any case, made it clear that this deal is thinking miles beyond the next Grand Slam spectacles.

"Mr. Federer is one of the greatest champions in history; my respect for him exceeds the sport»: This is the statement with which Uniqlo boss Tadashi Yanai explained why he is submitting a ten-year contract to a sportsman in the autumn of his career, with a fee of 30 million dollars per year. "Our partnership revolves around innovation on and off the court."

Federer and Uniqlo? Certainly, it wasn't completely weird: The marketing wedding obviously formed a launch pad on which the Swiss tennis player in the Far East and the Japanese clothing chain in the West can pull each other up.

The simple looks of the Uniqlo products – plain, the main thing is comfortable – complement each other with Federer's Swiss understatement.

But overall, Uniqlo was already a foreign body between the tennis establishment and the billion-dollar sports world. But it is precisely this that will now allow Federer to further develop the brand together with Uniqlo and bring about change worldwide: Anna Wintour, the "Vogue" boss, fashion princess and good acquaintance of the Swiss, explained the deal to the "New York Times".

«The Roger» belongs to Roger

Because the Uniqlo shirts, with which he has been stepping onto the pitch ever since, are not simply put freshly steamed up by the groundskeeper in the changing room – he develops them with him. And the contract with the Japanese stipulates that under Federer's Aegis collections are designed by «Life Wear», i.e. everyday and leisure dresses.A task that will definitely lead beyond the end of the champion's career: brand building with RF.

He now follows this integrated business principle at the shoe brand On – simply on a next level. Shareholder Federer has a say in the product as well as in the appearance. In order to price his expertise into the brand value, cameras are always on site when the Maestro checks the slip resistance of the sole material.

"We think Roger's perspectives and insights as a professional athlete will help improve our product development, marketing and fan experiences": This is how the documents on the on-IPO in New York describe the role of the over-shareholder.

But in the same text there are also warnings: The On sub-brand "The Roger", which is aimed at tennis fans, is owned by Tenco AG – Federer's rights company. And overall, the Zurich-based shoe manufacturer needs licenses for "certain trademarks and other rights that are related to Roger Federer's name, image and similarity".

Who is dependent on whom? For the aspiring shoe manufacturer, it may also be decisive which brand is really for eternity: RF or On.

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