'Christmas in July': Wimbledon's evolution as a lifestyle brand proves it's not just a tennis tournament

At least 35% of all online sales at Wimbledon are made in the U.S.

July 3, 2024, 5:01 AM

LONDON -- In the summer of 2023, Wimbledon’s advertising campaign tagline “Always Like Never Before” was a juxtaposition of looking to the future of The Championships while also harking back to its iconic history, “contrasting the tradition of SW19 with a new era of players making their mark on the game.”

But for Daniel Ashmore, the head of Retail, Merchandise & Licensing at the All England Club where The Championships at Wimbledon are held every summer in London, this perfectly encapsulates the challenge he faces on a daily basis -- how do you preserve heritage and tradition while looking forward to create new legacies for the modern audience?

“Our core values here include heritage and tradition, so it is really important to us to look backwards without being complacent and just trading off that,” Ashmore told ABC News. “We have to make sure that we're respectful of where we come from but also make sure that we keep creating a legacy as we grow for the next generation.”

This doesn’t necessarily give Ashmore a lot of leeway for creativity, especially when you are dealing with a tournament that has been around since 1877, has a basic color palette of green and purple and mandates the players on court to wear all-white outfits. What it does give him, however, is a rock-solid foundation to build from.

Part of the Wimbledon 2024 Collection.
Wimbledon / Elliot Wilcox

“We are looking to make sure that we have something in our collections for the sports fans,” Ashmore said. “But what we are also looking to do is include products in our collections that are tailored to a lifestyle, particularly a lifestyle for someone that has an affinity to our events before they have an affinity to our sport. This means we're designing with a slightly different customer in mind.”

In fact, everything Wimbledon designs is done in house from the hallowed grounds of the SW19 postcode.

Ashmore employs a merchandizer and production coordinator on the team which allows them to oversee production of all products Wimbledon sells -- both on site and online -- which means they do not rely on licensees for their products, giving Wimbledon that additional level of control that many other companies don’t have the luxury of benefitting from.

“That level of detail is something that, probably 10 years ago, we didn't necessarily have within our collections,” Ashmore continued. “Just 10 years ago we were a very heavily licensing-based business model, and we leaned quite heavily on external licensees for design quality. We trusted the output that they were able to give us, but it also meant we were diluting our collections year on year. We want to be offering the guests something that is relevant outside of The Championships.”

This means if you are looking to buy a Wimbledon product either on site or online, you won’t be seeing things like dog coats with the Wimbledon logo emblazoned on it.

“I think it would be inauthentic for us to go into a product category like that,” Ashmore said. “I think our guiding principle in merchandise should be ‘does it work on the court, does it work in the clubhouse?’ And if it doesn't work in either of those areas, is it authentically something we should sell? If we wanted to just chase volume, then sure. But for the elements we are working with here at Wimbledon, it just doesn't make any sense at the Championships.”

The AELTC logo on the arm of a line judge during day four of The Championships Wimbledon 2023 at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 6, 2023 in London.
Visionhaus/Getty Images, FILE

What you will see, however, are products that both traffic in nostalgia but that also try to push the Wimbledon brand further than it has been before, perhaps even with a view to expanding beyond Wimbledon one day and into their own stores globally.

The 2024 Wimbledon collection will feature items like knitted cardigans, oversized rugby shirts, comfy sweatshirts, sweat-wicking tennis clothes and stylish accessories -- items that are timeless and can be worn year-round, over and over again rather than seasonal products that reflect a certain date or time.

“Seasonal highlights from this year’s range include a navy Harrington jacket complete with an exclusively designed Wimbledon check interior, a white sweatshirt embroidered with a giant strawberry, a retro-inspired navy and white bomber jacket, and an urban-style green and white co-ord tracksuit,” Wimbledon told ABC News. “Also new to this year’s collection is a range of Italian leather bags including cross-body bags, shoppers, backpacks, and washbags, designed for taking to the court or on a weekend getaway.”

Part of the Wimbledon 2024 Collection.
Wimbledon / Elliot Willcox

At least 35% of all online sales at Wimbledon are made in the U.S., a number that Ashmore hopes will keep growing.

“There's appetite for more people to come to The Championships than are able to,” said Ashmore, referring to the tournament capacity of about half-a-million people each year. “That's where our business can start to, I suppose, demonstrate value for those guests that are a little further away and give them an opportunity to engage with us.”

There is precedent for this model and, ironically, it comes from brands based on two of the most famous tennis players in the men’s game -- names that you wouldn’t even necessarily initially associate with tennis because the brand has arguably surpassed their legacy on the court.

“I just think about our history and some of the great tennis players that live in our archives, like Fred Perry and [René] Lacoste, who are now, first and foremost, fashion brands. But if you look back to their roots, they are two gents that won the championships and made their name here or at Roland Garros [at the French Open]. These are brands that are among the most famous in the world. That's somewhere that we would like to be. Whether that takes us 10 or 20 years to get to a point where we grow our brand and have a different take on the social space, that is the ultimate goal down the line for us at Wimbledon.”

Official Wimbledon branding amongst color coordinated petunias on day twelve of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 14, 2018 in London.
Visionhaus/Corbis via Getty Images, FILE

One of the biggest challenges that Wimbledon has in carving out this retail space, both now and in the future, is the fact it comes around just once a year for a two-week period.

“We can spend 11 months planning for something to test and we can find out if that idea works or doesn't work at The Championships,” Ashmore said. “But if it works, you want to run with it straight away and capitalize on it. But, for us, that opportunity won’t come around again for another 12 months. In a lot of other normal sporting events, you test and learn all the time. We are always looking forward, but we always want to make sure that have done it for the right reasons, particularly through data and research.”

For 2024, Ashmore and his Wimbledon staff will do everything they can to demonstrate Wimbledon’s growing relevance, both on and off the court, by focusing on growing consumer demand at the biggest event on the tennis calendar each year.

“Most retailers spend the year gearing towards Christmas,” said Ashmore. “Our Christmas takes place in July.”

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