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Beyond Federer: On takes the endorsement offensive
With two headline grabbing signings, the Swiss sportswear brand serves notice that it’s more than just Roger’s signature shoe company.
Published Mar 23, 2023
The Break: More on Swiatek and Shelton signing with On
It was rumored throughout the off-season. On, the Swiss sportswear label noted for its high-performance running gear, was closing in on a sponsorship deal to add a big-time tennis player to its roster of athletes. With Roger Federer as an investor, the brand had been making small inroads in the tennis market. But nothing so far to indicate it was angling for a major expansion in the sport. Signing Iga Swiatek, the top female player in the world, sends a noisy signal that On means business.
The 21 year-old Swiatek had been wearing Asics apparel and shoes during her ascent up the rankings. Last fall, after winning two of the season’s majors and compiling the longest win streak in women’s tennis this century, she signed with IMG Tennis. If there were ever a time to strike lucrative endorsement deals, the proverbial iron was scorching hot.
Of all the offers, it was On that managed to ink the three-time Grand Slam champ.
“I think On is doing incredibly well in positioning itself in the landscape of the apparel business,” says Swiatek’s agent, Max Eisenbud. “With Federer’s influence tennis became an obvious next pillar. They wanted to make a big splash and they made a big splash getting the No. 1 player in the world.”
But On didn’t stop there. In addition to Swiatek, they plucked one of the game’s most exciting up-and-comers in Ben Shelton. The 20 year-old American, who made the Australian Open quarterfinals earlier this year in just his second Grand Slam event, has already cracked the ATP Top 50. The sturdy, athletic lefty seemingly has all the tools to be a future champion.
“They’re a really great company, and they’re really growing like crazy right now,” says Shelton. “So to be able to be a part of their growth—and to grow with them—is something that I’m just excited to be part of.”
The looming figure in all this is Federer. He has a stake in On and had a hand in the design of its Roger Pro tennis shoe. Plus, Team 8, the management company he started with his longtime agent, Tony Godsick, represents Shelton. The immense respect and adoration he garners from current players would seem to be a sizeable bargaining chip.
However, in this instance it was purely an On production. Federer had no part in the Swiatek talks, and apart from some encouraging texts, Shelton has never actually met him.
“It’s a big company,” says Eisenbud. “I was negotiating the deal with the CEO and head of marketing, not Federer or Team 8. I understand why everybody is looking into that, but Federer is not making those decisions for them. The way they’re contracting with the athletes is non-traditional. Which is a breath of fresh air and exciting.”
Both Swiatek and Shelton will wear On’s newly developed on-court collection, as well as custom versions of the Roger Pro. The shoe was originally designed specifically for Federer, who has a rather wide foot. When it went to mass market, it was updated with a more universal cut. While Shelton is expected to play in his shoe in Miami, Swiatek—who withdrew from the Miami Open with a rib injury—will continue to compete in Asics until her own shoe is ready.
On plans to work closely with its players on their gear, even scripting the apparel worn by members of their player’s box. It’s also already looking strategically into the future by signing highly touted Brazilian junior, Joao Fonseca. All indications that this running company wants to be a tennis player.
“They’re pretty serious about getting into the sport,” says Eisenbud. “I personally manage Iga and they were a lot of companies after her. I don’t manage Ben but I bet there were a lot after him. To land both says a lot.”