GENEVA/TOKYO – Tennis great Roger Federer, long all but synonymous with Nike Inc., has parted ways with the swoosh to join casual clothing brand Uniqlo.
The eight-time Wimbledon champion surprised many fans when he walked onto Centre Court for his first-round match Monday afternoon in an outfit by Fast Retailing Co.’s Uniqlo. The Swiss star’s apparel contract with Nike expired March 1.
“Our partnership will be about innovation on and off court,” Fast Retailing Chief Executive Officer Tadashi Yanai said in a statement Monday.
Federer’s name recognition boosts Uniqlo’s global expansion efforts, especially in Europe, where the brand is opening new stores.
Uniqlo has seen strong growth in places such as China, helping international sales top domestic revenue for two straight quarters.
But the retailer may face challenges in markets where rivals such as Inditex SA’s Zara and Hennes & Mauritz AB’s H&M are more established.
Uniqlo said Federer, who has won a men’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles, will represent the brand at all tennis tournaments throughout the year.
ESPN reported that the deal guarantees him $300 million over 10 years — a time period that will take him well into retirement from the tennis circuit.
A Fast Retailing spokeswoman said the company doesn’t disclose the details of its contracts.
“While the reported deal may appear excessive for an athlete approaching the twilight of his career, the meaningful boost he should provide Uniqlo’s overseas expansion could make such a partnership worthwhile for both parties,” said Bloomberg Intelligence consumer analyst Thomas Jastrzab.
The new relationship gives Uniqlo another shot at exploiting one of the sport’s all-time greats. The brand endorsed 12-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic for five years, but he signed with Maus Freres SA’s Lacoste last year. Uniqlo continues to endorse Kei Nishikori, the most successful Japanese player ever.
Federer, who turns 37 in August, signed his first contract with Nike in 1994. He continues to wear the brand’s shoes, as Uniqlo doesn’t make athletic footwear. Nishikori also wears Nike shoes, having left Adidas AG last year.