Wimbledon, it's something we've all heard of.
Even if tennis is just that sport we only started playing once we realised we could play sitting down on the Wii, and strawberries and cream is just our favourite flavour of cornetto. (Just me?) Well, even so it's pretty difficult to escape the utterly British hurrah that surrounds the first two weeks of July every year, and the big names that grace the groomed grassy courts.
It proudly stands as the oldest tennis tournament in the world and has been held at the All England Club in Wimbledon since 1877. There have been a whopping 133 editions and it's one of the four Grand Slam Tennis Tournaments that are held annually across the globe - which also includes the Australian Open, Roland-Garros (otherwise known as the French Open, more on that confusion later) and the US Open which rounds off the year of rackets and balls in early Autumn.
Each Grand Slam is surrounded by its own drama, history, traditions and of course distinctive branding, logos and figureheads. So without further ado let's step onto the court and have a look at how tennis has been changing through the ages and how creative and bold graphic design has played it's part.
In order to maintain its prestige and tradition over the years, Wimbledon has dodged the plague of sponsors that usually surround international sporting events and remained notably free of the distracting and sometimes unattractive graphics and adverts forced into sponsorship deals by big money. Only a select few brands have made the cut to be Official Suppliers of the tournament, and with some of the longest partnerships in sporting history, once you're in, there's a good chance you're there to stay.
With Slazenger securing the role of Official Tennis Ball supplier in 1902, Robinsons being the Official Soft Drinks supplier since 1935 and Rolex the Official Timekeeper since 1978, picking sponsors carefully has meant they have stood the test of time, and in turn they've benefited from association with the prestigious Wimbledon brand.
As well as their suppliers not changing, the look of the brand has remained pretty much the same since it was introduced. A brand identity-overhaul was developed by Hat-Trick Design in 2011, re-energising the logo and introducing stringent brand-guidelines to ensure the imagery surrounding Wimbledon remained consistent and distinctive. They kept the clubs unique purple and green colourway and created a double stripe device for the website and print communications which looks classy and instantly recognisable as the Wimbledon stamp.
The Crossed Rackets logo remains one of the most distinctive in English sport, with the simple and clean san-serif typeface Gotham appearing more legible than the previous font and lending itself well to digital platforms. The circular imagery suggests at a tennis ball and the green at the grassy courts particular to the Wimbledon Championships, with the bold purple band surrounding the 'court' conjuring imagery of the spectators stadium at centre court, the most prestigious court that hosts the Finals of the whole tournament.
The two crossed rackets hints at the rivalry between the two players in traditional tennis, and the crossing of talent, personalities and individuality in every game. There is also a clever use of negative space in the re-designed logo with the detail on both ball and rackets created through the absence rather that creation of lines.
All-in-all the brand has been built up to meet the high-standards and strong reputation that Wimbledon has created, and is now instantly recognisable with a bold colour scheme, consistency and creativity. It is a good example of how careful selection of association, strong and clear branding and marketing and attention to detail can create a brand as strong as the thing it represents, which with Wimbledon is some of the greatest and more exciting talent on this planet.
First held in 1905, it has been labelled the largest annual sporting event in the Southern Hemisphere and is often referred to as the 'Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific' and remains the highest attended grand slam with more than 780,000 people attending in 2019. If this isn't impressive enough it has been staged in five Australian cities and two in New Zealand, with Melbourne being selected as the official host city in 1972.
However this large attraction didn't begin until it had been designated a major championship in 1924, but it is the first of the Grand Slams chronologically as it kicks off in January for two nail-biting weeks of tennis, and therefore tends to set the tone for the year of tennis ahead.
It has a slightly different approach to sponsors than Wimbledon (who only use sponsors for supplies they say are 'essential') and is partnered with amongst others; Barilla, a Pasta brand (heavily endorsed by Roger Federer); Blackmores, a vitamins and supplements brand and even Vegemite, all of which perhaps could be considered non-essential, but who presumably provide solid sponsorship. There are of course other sponsors, with the main partner being the car company KIA, but the range of brands partnering with the Australian Open is spearheaded by the desire of Tennis Australia to create a new identity to 'reflect the Open's transformation into a future-focused entertainment brand'.
This embodies a different approach to the Wimbledon branding, but perhaps one that is slightly more ambitious. The new monogram logo was designed by Brand Consulting Firm Landor in 2016 and has no suggestion at its link to tennis at all, leaving the door open for all sorts of other ventures. The old logo had it's issues, being gender specific and not easily translatable across digital platforms, but it was very clearly branding a tennis tournament and it was a bold step away from that with the new brand identity.
But Australian fans weren't convinced, with two thirds preferring the old logo in a survey done by the Huffington Post Australia in 2017. However, if the history of branding and logo design can attest to anything it's that lots of re-design just takes getting used to, and fans will often follow from disappointment to acceptance to forgetting what they ever loved about the old branding anyway. Indeed, the new logo does lend itself very well to manipulation in design, being used in the posters, on clothing and on bold posters, becoming quickly recognisable and distinctive as the Australian open brand.
So on a focus away from the game, they've taken a bold step in an effort to become a global brand, only time will tell if this will affect the tennis and reputation of the tournament, or if they will go from strength to strength and give the Grand Slam more impact than ever before.
Officially called the Roland-Garros after the Stade where the tournament takes place, the French Open is the more familiar name that is favoured by English speakers, despite the best efforts of French federation officials. This has resulted in some confusion when discussing, reporting on and even advertising the tournament, with a google search for 'Roland-Garros' generating mere 141 million results, and 'The French Open' generating a huge 2.37 billion. In an effort to combat this a big job was done on key words for search engines in order for www.rolandgarros.com to come up as the first result in a search for 'The French Open', and the official tournament website as www.frenchopen.com was discontinued in 2008 as an effort to change attitudes towards the name.
The French Championships became international in 1925, with the first French Open tennis tournament taking place at the Stade de Roland-Garros in that year. Despite disputes over what to call the tournament, it remains one of the most well-known in the world, held in late May early June as the second Grand Slam Tennis Tournament of the year.
It is also unique in its use of clay courts, which is a naturally slower-playing surface than the hard-courts or grass favoured by the other tournaments, making it widely considered as the most physically demanding tournament. This gives it a unique twist and element that is represented in the branding, much like the green grass courts of Wimbledon.
The tournament has many sponsors which it has graciously split into four categories: Main Partner (The bank BNP Paribas), Premium Partners (Including Rolex and Lacoste), Official Partners (Including Perrier and Infosys) and Official Suppliers (Including Moet and Magnum). Presumably no Official Partner is offended by their lack of Premium status, but it reflects Wimbledon's careful selection of brands as what Roland-Garros want their brand to represent.
Onto the logo, it is similar in design to Wimbledon's in its circular shape and reference to its particular court surface with the orange clay colour in the middle. Again, tennis ball and stadium imagery are conjured up and a thin serif typeface sets a classic feel to the logo. Yet the RG in the centre with a clever use of negative space to create the 'R' lends a modern twist and is instantly recognisable.
Like Wimbledon, the branding has been carefully curated and designed to retain its status as exclusive and prestigious, and associations picked carefully to build up a reputation. It will remain to be seen if the official name will be adopted by English-speakers used to the naming of the Australian and US Open, but if history is anything to go by, Roland-Garros may struggle to ever overcome the French Open title that has prevailed.
The last Grand Slam of the year, and the only one still left to play for in 2019, is the US Open starting on the last Monday of August in New York. The US National championships began in 1881 with men's singles and doubles and was one of the world's oldest tennis championships, it was from this tournament that the US Open grew and since 1987 it has been the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament. The Open era began in 1968 and in 1973 the tournament became notable for being the first Grand Slam tournament to award equal prize money to men and women, something which is now commonplace across all major tennis tournaments.
They have fewer sponsors than the Australian or French Open however maintain a very prestigious select few with only 11 Official Sponsors (Including Mercedes, Rolex and Polo Ralph Lauren) and 8 Official Suppliers (Including Heineken, Grey Goose and Wilson), with their domestic broadcast partner being ESPN.
Last year a new logo was launched for the brand and was met with mixed reception. The old logo had been in place since 1997 and didn't translate well to the digital-age, it looked dated with an all capital serif font that looked more congress than court-worthy and a flaming tennis ball that not only looks oddly squished but seemed to be following a red trail rather than creating it. Despite the clear tennis connotations and the attempt to capture the speed and excitement of the sport with the flaming ball, the whole thing wasn't very cohesive and had been due a re-design for a while.
This brings us to the simplified and clean new logo which was designed by New York graphics firm Chernayeff & Gesimar & Haviv, following the trend of minimal logos for the digital-age, the rippling flames, squished ball and almost everything complicated about the old logo are done away with. We are left with a play on the flaming ball with three golden dashes suggesting at the speed and quick balls of the game, on a dark blue background similar to the colour of the hard courts the tournament is played on.
It is perhaps worth mentioning that out of context the shape looks more like a miscellaneous airline logo, but the lowercase us open manages to anchor it to the tournament, and presumably they won't be using it too much without the text, as people might forget that it's a flaming ball and instead be wondering where they should next jet off. It was also clearly decided that there was no need for a dot between the u and s to distinguish the United States from the word 'us'. However, as the fame and notoriety of the tournament is global it would seem the minimalism won out over technicalities and the cleanness and simplicity have given a much needed modern and youthful injection to the branding.
Of all the Grand Slam Logos this was the one in most need of a kick into the modern-age and it'll be up to the branding team now to continue the momentum they have created with the re-design, hopefully only moving away from the old flaming balls and further into the future of bold design.
So, what can we take away from this look into the history of grand slams and branding?
Firstly, each of the Grand Slams have worked hard to create their own brand and to monopolise on that, from the more tennis orientated approach of Wimbledon and Roland-Garros, to the ambitious and even ambiguous branding from the Australian Open. The US Open seems to hang somewhere in between with a step away from their classic typeface looking at a more modern and wide-reaching approach to the brand, but not quite to the extent of the AO Brand.
Only time will tell if these four tournaments will maintain the levels of class and prestige that tennis so far has created, or whether their own ambitions will eclipse what is really important, the beautiful game and the chance to see the best players from around the world battle it out. From 15-year-old Cori Gauff beating Venus Williams to Novak Djokovic beating Roger Federer in the longest Final of all time, Wimbledon 2019 has shown us that the best of tennis is yet to come and let's hope that the big brands that tennis has created don't forget what made them great.
All logos sourced from: www.brandsoftheworld.com