Open Goal: Interview with clothing brand Gant
For our latest “Open Goal” interview series with brands looking to target sport, caytoo spoke to Patterson at the Gant Championships – the Wimbledon preparation tournament the brand decided to reactivate and take ownership of.
The Champsionships, held at London’s Roehampton Club, has a “now vs. next” theme, pitting promising talent against established tennis professionals. In previous years it’s seen the likes of Boris Becker and Andy Murray compete on the way to becoming global stars, but for years the competition was dormant, until Gant came along…
caytoo: What is Gant’s overall approach to sports sponsorship? Why use sports as a vehicle?
Fergus: Firstly, we’re not a sports athletic brand. We’re not Nike, Adidas, Puma. Those guys own the court, the golf course, the football pitch etc. Instead, we would like to own the locker room and the clubhouse after the golf. For us, it’s when you’ve taken off your performance wear and you want to put something on that’s casual, we want to be the brand of choice for those people. People who are into sport and curious professionals are definitely amongst our target audience.
“People who are into sport and curious professionals
are definitely amongst our target audience”
If you look at our target audience, they’re people who lead an active life that appreciate quality. So that’s why we felt Roehampton was a really good fit with this tournament because it’s a premium club, it sits alongside our brand. We don’t aspire to be a luxury brand but we are a premium brand, what we call “affordable luxury”, and so it fitted that really well and resonates with our target customer.
caytoo: What type of sports marketing activity have you done in the past?
Fergus: When I joined the company, back in 2012, we were one of the sponsors of the Henley Regatta because the company felt that it made sense due to our heritage. We grew up on the east coast of America. The brand originates from New Haven, Connecticut and Yale was our birthplace. Thus, one of the things that is really important to us is learning and, because of our collegiate university background sports – water sport in particular – it was a good fit but it’s becoming more and more about participation sports, so things that our customers do when they’re not working.
What do they do in their spare time? They play the likes of tennis, squash, golf. So that was our approach. We stopped the arrangement that we had with Henley and then we didn’t do anything in sport for some time.
caytoo: How did the Gant Championships come about?
Fergus: Our parent company is Swedish and they’ve sponsored the Swedish Open in Baståd since 2017. So I started to look for tennis as being a potential partner in the UK. We had a look at sponsoring a tournament such as Queens and some of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) tournaments but in those cases we were adding our name to somebody else’s event. So, it’s actually about Queens not about Gant. The idea then formulated between myself and the guys at sports marketing agency Octagon to resurrect this event and call it The Gant Championships. Furthermore, because we’re a learning organisation, the whole idea of making the tournament’ a “now vs next” generation appealed to us as it fits with our core values.
So the players we hired this year – Ivo Karlovic, Fernando Verdasco and Richard Gasquet – play against the next generation like Mackenzie McDonald who is fantastic. Also our own ambassador Anton Matusevich. So for us it was a great opportunity to make that link. “Never stop learning” is to Gant what “Just do it” is to Nike. It’s internal and external, we want customers to eventually associate ‘never stop learning’ with Gant because of the type of organisation we are and this fitted really well with that.
“We want customers to eventually associate ‘never stop learning’ with Gant
because of the type of organisation we are”
caytoo: You said this was a dormant event?
Fergus: It had existed. It used to be called the Club Med, it was the travel company Club Med, and they did it for many years. They had Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic, Lleyton Hewitt and a number of the people that went on to be massive stars. A very young Andy Murray played here back in the day and they saw it as a really good curtain raiser and a good opportunity to practice on grass ahead of the tournament in a nice surrounding not too far from where the players are all based – in and around Wimbledon. So when the opportunity presented itself, I think partly because the members at Roehampton remembered and missed the tournament, we started to look at it. We then spoke to Roehampton and they were equally as keen to resurrect the tournament, and that’s part of the reason we did it.
caytoo: What were the key objectives of the event and how would you define a successful return on investment from it?
Fergus: To be honest, sometimes when you do any event, it’s very hard to make a strong directly-linked case to your ROI. But for me, this is an opportunity for people that support us all year round – customers, suppliers and people from property agents that work for Gant that help us to do many many things in the market – to come and have a lovely day out.
Success is: #1 that everyone who came enjoyed themselves? Did they think it was a good event? Did they have fun? Did they enjoy themselves? Secondly, there will obviously be an analysis of social media and the amount of outreach that we get from that.
caytoo: How much did it end up costing?
Fergus: Honestly all I can say – without quoting any figures – was in 2013, when I first joined the company, we did one week of advertising in two tube stations in London (Oxford Circus and Knightsbridge). It had already been signed up for when I joined here. It’s not what I would have done personally but it had been done, and we had the stations branded up with GANT for a week and we spent less on the Championships than we spent on that.
This was partly due to the fact that for these championships we got some commercial elements, we sold some hospitality packages, we had some corporate sponsorship. Setteo were involved, they have a really exciting platform for racquet sports players to link up and be able to play with people in countries that they’ve never been to before. They were one of our sponsors, so we were able to generate income through sponsorship and through hospitality, as you’d expect. This brings down the cost. It still has a cost but it brings down the cost and it makes it actually a very cost effective event. Plus, it gives us tons and tons of really great content that we can use over the next year.
caytoo: How did it work in terms of the LTA being a rights holder for tennis here?
Fergus: We cleared it with the LTA because Octagon work very closely with them and we don’t want to do anything that’s going to upset the LTA. They were brilliant. We got their blessing to hold the event and we even ran the GANT Championships logo past them to ensure there was no conflict.
“We’re supporting young men and young ladies who are on
the journey, not people that have already arrived”
So we want to work, if we can, hand in hand with the LTA. We’re supporting grassroots tennis, which is what they want to do. We’re supporting young men and young ladies who are on the journey, not people that have already arrived. Although that’s part of the former, a lot of what this is about is giving a platform and an opportunity to young talent and that very much fits with our strong family values. We’re a lifestyle brand, we do men’s, women’s and kids, so we’re an inclusive brand and it’s just great having young kids involved as ball staff and helpers as well.
caytoo: How did the ambassadorial role with Anton come about?
Fergus: It was absolutely because it played into ‘never stop learning.’ Our owners are the same company that owns Lacoste, so our sister brand is a big, big tennis brand. They have Novak Djokovic as their brand ambassador and we’re not a tennis brand and we’re not trying to be a sports athletic brand. But Anton is a bright young talent, he’s British and he’s potentially got a great future. He’s at the point where he needs help now, he doesn’t need help when he’s already arrived at his destination.
“We got interested because we want to support Anton’s
learning journey, because it fitted in with our ethos”
You know, it’s easy to get sponsorship when you are an established star winning high-profile tournaments. But when you’re on the journey to get there it’s very hard to get companies like us to get interested. We became interested because we want to support his learning journey which fits in with our ethos. He looks good, he’s a really nice lad and I think he’ll do us proud as an ambassador and, hopefully, what he gets from this sponsorship will help him on his journey.
caytoo: Did you become aware of Anton because of the Octagon relationship?
Fergus: I met Anton about 18 months ago, and his mum Kate, when I was in the Octagon office discussing sponsorship in general. I thought they were lovely people. To be honest, it was totally coincidental. I was having a meeting with Clifford Bloxham, exploring some options and he was telling me about Anton and said in fact he’s in here today with his mum. At that stage I don’t think he had actually signed for Octagon.
So I met them both and then when I started talking about this tournament with Clifford, which was about six or seven months later, he reminded me about the meeting with Anton at the office because he knew I was looking for young talent.
“I thought he’s perfect because he’s got a real sportsman’s
competitive streak but also sees the importance of education”
I thought he is a really nice guy. His mom was so grounded and he obviously comes from a really supportive family that really want to nurture his talent. But they were very clear about the fact that he had to get his A-levels first. So I just thought he’s perfect because he’s got a real sportsman’s competitive streak but also sees the importance of education, so I think he’ll be a good ambassador. He also looks great in our clothes.
caytoo: What advice would you give other athletes like Anton who are looking to get sponsorship in tennis or any other sport?
Fergus: The number one thing is to try for good brands that you like yourself, that you have a genuine affinity with. So, Anton likes our clothing, it’s a brand that he associates with that he would like to wear. And it would be really terrible if you were thinking, “well I’m going to get paid some money but I’ve got to wear this stuff I don’t like, I don’t look good in it and I don’t want to wear it”.
So for anybody, if you get the opportunity to choose between a sponsor that offers you a bigger fee or a sponsor where you feel a real affinity towards the product, I would say, unless it’s a life changing sum of money, go with things that you feel good with.
“Unless it’s a life changing sum of money,
go with things that you feel good with”
caytoo: Are there any key lessons from your experience for other brands working with rights holders on something like this?
Fergus: The only thing is I underestimated how long it would take for us to get everything into place agreement-wise between us, Roehampton and Octagon. So the lead time was much greater than I thought it was, therefore, we probably didn’t start early enough. If you’re going to do an event, you need to think about it way in advance of when you think you might need to.
I don’t come from a background of having to do these types of corporate things. I was amazed at how much detail between our legal team and their legal team. You know what you can do, what you can’t do, which images you can use. Just give yourself plenty of time. My team have done an incredible job making this happen. We only had five months in the end to work on this and it wasn’t enough. We needed twelve and obviously, if you have a curtailed period of organisation, then that does stand in the way a little bit of being able to bring in external sponsors who might be part of the event because they’ve already committed their budgets. Give yourself time.
“We’ve got two or three really high profile companies that
would love to be a part of this”
We’ve got two or three really high profile companies that would love to be a part of this if we do it again next year – we were just too late in the day this time.
caytoo: How will sports sponsorships and the partnerships between brands and rights holders change in the years to come?
Fergus: The thing that’s changing – it’s less about what’s going to happen to sponsorship versus sports and brands and other things – it’s how you reach out to consumers because, at the end of the day, all of these things have got an aim. The ultimate aim being you want consumers to associate, identify with and then purchase your brand. That’s what you want and there’s lots of different ways that we’ve done that over the years.
Obviously, the incredible explosion of digital and the use of live streaming and social media has changed everything. When I looked at this event and Clifford and Octagon showed me the images from 20 years ago when Boris Becker and Goran Ivanisevic and the like played here, it looked so dated. Everything was all about print media and whether you could get in a newspaper. By the very end they were actually broadcasting it in a couple of countries, particularly Germany because of Boris’ involvement, whereas now you don’t need any of that. You have a good high quality HD camera, you have a live streaming website, you have YouTube, and you have so many ways to reach consumers.
“Richard Gasquet was broadcasting it on his website when
he was playing, so that his fans could watch it”
All of a sudden you’ve got the tennis players themselves broadcasting it. Richard Gasquet was broadcasting it on his website when he was playing, so that his fans could watch it. These things weren’t possible years ago. What every organisation has to understand is how do you translate what your business aims are into ‘how can I connect that digitally?’ Because that’s the way in which most people, certainly the next generation, have been engaged.
It’s been a fascinating learning for me because I think of myself as being quite tech savvy, but I do come from the previous generation where it was all about magazines – if you didn’t see it in FourFourTwo or Golf Monthly, then you didn’t know anything about it. Whereas now, people aren’t reading those magazines the same way, and if they are reading them, its on an iPad in a digital format. So for us it’s learning how we will make those connections.
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