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Everything you need to know about Roger Federer’s Uniqlo deal

Federer left the swoosh behind.

Miami Open 2018 - Day 6 Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

There’s been a lot of talk about Roger Federer leaving Nike over the past few days. So much so that it’s spilled over from Tennis Twitter and piqued the interest of other corners of the internet and life. Which doesn’t happen too often outside of Serena Williams-related news, so you know it’s big.

So what is exactly happening with Federer, his longtime outfitter Nike, and Japanese company Uniqlo? Well, one of tennis’s top names is leaving behind his former sponsor for boatloads of cash with a rising Asian conglomerate.

The deal

Federer is now a Uniqlo brand ambassador, and it will only cost the company $30 million a year for the next decade.

Uniqlo’s sports sponsorships have all come from either tennis or golf professionals. By reeling in Federer, the company not only lands one of the most recognizable male athletes in either sport, but also replaces Rafael Nadal, who left Uniqlo for a deal with Lacoste last year. Federer adds instant credibility and visibility; not only is he one of the world’s most successful athletes, but his former relationship with Nike helps establish Uniqlo as a major player in the apparel world. After all, you don’t swipe sponsorships away from Nike if you’re a nobody.

The rumor

Swiss newspaper Le Matin started this news cycle with a Sunday morning report about Federer leaving Nike. It alleged Federer was done with Nike and Uniqlo was making a play for one of the greatest tennis players of all time. From there, the rumor eventually expanded to include a reported Uniqlo offer of a 10-year, $300 million deal. Some sources even said it was already done and Federer had inked a deal.

Before Monday, all of that was still in the “just a rumor” stage.

Federer’s former status with Nike

Federer is no longer with Nike on a contractual basis. His existing deal with Nike expired on March 1, and while he’s played two tournaments since then — the BNP Paribas Open in Indians Wells and the Miami Open — he hasn’t appeared in a major tournament in Nike gear. Which is usually when he debuts new footwear and custom clothing.

At Stuttgart, Federer’s first tournament back after skipping clay season, he was asked about the rumors during his opening press conference and said of the rumors “It has already expired in March and we are in negotiations.” So that part is at least confirmed.

He said of a change in outfitter,

”They are rumours and nothing is ruled out, neither my continuity in Nike nor the end of our collaboration, nor a change to any brand.”

He’s been seen wearing Nike in Stuttgart, so this definitely isn’t a clean break situation if he does end up changing companies. But he also didn’t deny it outright, so everything is on the table now.

Federer’s history with Nike

Nike and Federer are old friends. He’s been with them since 1994 (!) and has worn the swoosh for every one of his 20 major titles. His most recent deal paid him $12 million a year for a decade, more than double Rafael Nadal’s five-year, $50 million deal with the company.

Their relationship goes beyond money though. Nike and Federer have collaborated for years on the evolution of the NikeCourt Zoom vapor, his unofficial official shoe. Fed has been an integral part of the features and changes to each edition, and the custom touches Nike adds to the shoes for Slams always make headlines.

Plus, they own Federer’s signature “RF” logo.

They own his logo?

Yes, Nike owns the sponsorship of the famous “RF” logo, just like they own Rafael Nadal’s bull.

If he were to switch companies, Federer would lose the rights to use it. That’s not a small deal, as after so long with Nike it’s as much a part of his personal brand as his floppy hair or dad tendencies. The logo probably isn’t going to change his mind one way or another, but it’s also not nothing when you consider how closely associated he is to it.

Uniqlo’s tennis goals

Uniqlo has been trying to break into tennis for a while now. Novak Djokovic wore Uniqlo for five years before leaving them for Lacoste in 2017. Kei Nishikori, another top player, currently dons Uniqlo. They also dress Shingo Kunieda, a top wheelchair tennis player. They’ve been trying to increase their foothold in both tennis and golf (where they sponsor Adam Scott) for the better part of this decade, so a big move like this would not only be a shocking coup but a huge step forward for the brand’s sports sponsorships.

Reasons it could happen

The switch could happen mainly because if there’s an athlete who can undergo this kind of rebranding late in his career without missing a step it’s Federer. He’s calm, cool, and collected, and if he’s even considering a move then Uniqlo probably gave him a good reason to do so.

Whether that’s the money, more creative freedom, a longer deal than Nike is offering, or what, Federer’s camp would have never let things get this far or be leaked publicly if he wasn’t seriously considering his options.

He’s not going to play forever. Maybe another two seasons and change. He’s spending more time with his family and has spoken publicly about how much he enjoys those breaks. With those priorities changing, it’s entirely possible that his post-playing endorsement priorities are changing too and an international brand like Uniqlo could be exactly what he’s looking for.

Plus, the rumored money amounts to half of what he currently brings home in yearly endorsement money. So that’s some pretty good motivation.

Reasons it could be only rumors

Even with all of the available evidence — rumored strife with Nike, the logo issue, the extra money from Uniqlo — this deal might not happen if only because it doesn’t really make sense. We can contort our way into logical reasons for Federer to switch, but all of these rumors remain shocking because you can poke holes in every possible scenario.

Nike can’t give Federer the money he’s asking for? They signed LeBron James to a lifetime contract worth more than a billion dollars. Topping $30 million a year to retain one of the most marketable international athletes for another 10 years seems like a simple choice.

They’ve worked closely with Federer on creative decisions and the direction of tennis gear for all Nike players for over a decade, but it’s unrealistic to guarantee him creative bandwidth?

Honestly, the rebranding piece seems like a logistical nightmare. The paperwork involved in creating a new logo now is a lot for a 36-year-old with two sets of twins to wrangle. Questionable.

The verdict

That Nike’s deal with Federer expired in March and the rumors are just now coming out about a potential change signals that this could all be part of a media game happening so a new deal can get done.

It’s reasonable to think that for the better part of three months Nike and Federer have continued negotiation money and years for a new endorsement deal — all while he wore their clothing on court — and now things have gotten contentious enough that Federer decided he would push things along by going public a little. Plus, he’s back from his family vacation so he has all the time in the world to play media games now when he didn’t before.

The original rumor came from Swiss media, after all. Sure, they’re plugged into all things Federer far more than other international outlets, but that outlet having the news first isn’t clear of suspicion.

The big test will be Wimbledon. It’s only a few weeks away, so Nike obviously has his clothing and custom shoes ready to go should he want them. But there’s a chance now they announce Federer’s favorite tournament will also be his last with Nike. Or, even more shockingly, he could be wearing Uniqlo when he steps on the court at the beginning of the fortnight.

No outcome is certain here, and, when it comes to Federer, that’s also kind of refreshing. Until we know for sure, the rumors will swirl.