Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Would you buy these shorts?
I spent the last couple of weeks on vacation, culminating in a great 3-day weekend with my sister at the Rogers Cup Masters tennis tournament in Montreal. The tennis was excellent, the weather cooperated, and the tournament organizers did an outstanding job. Had it not been for this pair of shorts, my blog post about the tournament would’ve been about how the organizers should give master-classes in running a smooth – and fun – event.
But I couldn’t ignore these shorts.
These are Nike shorts, worn by one of the top 10 men’s tennis players in the world. We noted that at least one other player wore the same shorts – in black – but because of their dark colour, they didn’t create the same “issue”.
It was very hot in Montreal last week, and this is a high-performance athlete. But while everyone expects a professional athlete to sweat, no-one wants to wear shorts that show sweat like this.
Sports apparel companies like Nike spend millions sponsoring and outfitting professional athletes across the sporting world, in the hopes that seeing their clothes and equipment on those athletes will build brand loyalty among their legions of fans. It’s a smart strategy, and has delivered customers for decades.
But as this pair of shorts shows, a sponsor company shouldn’t just send off the wardrobe, pay the sponsorship fees and leave it at that. It should watch to ensure the clothing is doing its job for both the athlete and the company: that is, making them both look good.
I have questions about the product itself – shouldn’t athletic clothing be designed to avoid this? Even if these were “extraordinary” circumstances, though, a Nike rep should have seen that these shorts weren’t right for the conditions the first time the player wore them, and hustled up new (dark coloured) pairs before the next match. If worst came to worst, there was a pro shop on the grounds of the tournament – someone could have gone over there with a credit card and bought some new shorts for the player if that’s what it had to come to. But there’s no way this poor guy should have been out there, day after day, in the blazing sun with shorts that looked like this.
It must have been embarrassing for the player; but for my money, Nike’s the one that came out looking bad. It’s an enormous global brand – but after this tournament, I’m sure many of us who attended the Rogers Cup (and who watched it on ESPN, TSN, RDS and other channels that may have been covering the event) have doubts about how they test their fabrics… and may be a little hesitant to pick up the next pair of coloured Nike shorts that catches our eye.
Execution is great – but follow-through is just as important. When managing any kind of event or sponsorship that goes beyond single-hit exposure, it’s just as important to watch and manage the third, or seventh, or hundredth exposure as it is the first.