In surprising news yesterday, Italian clothing manufacturer Sergio Tacchini announced that it would no longer sponsor reigning world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. “It has been mutually and amicably decided that, as of the 2012 Roland Garros Grand Slam, Novak Djokovic will no longer be the brand ambassador,” a spokesperson for Tacchini said Tuesday. At a press conference in Paris today, Djokovic stated that he had signed a five-year endorsement contract with Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo. The terms of the deal have yet to be made public.
According to CNBC’s Darren Rovell, Sergio Tacchini, who had signed Djokovic to a 10-year deal in November of 2009, was unable to make good on contract obligations. “Tacchini was able to sign Djokovic by offering him a smaller guarantee than the larger companies would pay, but promised bigger should he do well,” Rovell reported. “When Djokovic kept winning, the company fell behind on payments to the tennis star.” As Rovell tells it, Tacchini’s revenue stream was compromised by company infighting between salesmen in Italy and the U.S., soured relationships with distributors, as well as problems with logistics and supply, all of which made it hard for the company to deliver products stateside.
The news comes as validation to a number of businesses within the tennis industry, many of whom experienced difficulties retailing the Italian brand’s apparel.
The split “was inevitable,” said Brian Hirshfeld, owner of Holabird Sports. Sergio Tacchini “hit a jackpot with having [Djokovic]. But they could never deliver on product in the U.S. It was never a good partnership, in my opinion, having such a huge person and never having the inventory to back it up.”
Hirshfeld said Tacchini’s deliveries to Holabird were often late or incomplete, inconveniencing its customers and hurting the retailer’s reputation. “One season, we put it up for pre-sale,” Hirshfeld remembered. “We sold a lot of it, and then we were shorted our initial order. And we had to call customers and say, ‘Sorry, we’re basically never going to get this product that we thought we were.’ So that made us look bad…The most recent season, we booked everything, and nothing ever came into the states for US retailers.”
Leon Echavarria, owner of Tennis Plaza, a pro shop in Miami, FL, echoed Hirshfeld’s grievances, adding that many customers struggled to find the right fit in the clothing. “Lots was wrong with it,” he said. “Late deliveries. I only received one collection [from Tacchini], and compared to Nike or Adidas, it wasn’t as good. The fabrics were ok, but the sizing was really bad. When they said it was medium, it was like an extra small.”
“They were not ready for the demand,” Echavarria continued. “Djokovic is a very charismatic guy. There are very few players out there who are marketable and can sell apparel. Djokovic is one. And what he did last year was incredible. There was a lot of exposure. People were coming in asking for the product. But [the company] just couldn’t deliver. Whomever Djokovic signs with, hopefully they’ll have some merchandise to sell here in the US.”
Unlike many other retailers, Tennis Warehouse, which declined comment, was able to consistently deliver Tacchini products to customers “by shipping gear that it had received from its European affiliate,” according to Rovell.
It remains unclear whether online retailers and specialty pro shops in the U.S. will be able to sell Djokovic-endorsed Uniqlo apparel. In addition to Djokovic, Kei Nishikori also represents the Japanese clothing brand.