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Timepieces

Masterful branding: Rolex taps into association between human achievement and excellence in sport

The most famous tennis ambassador has probably been Swiss ace Roger Federer, who is regarded as one of the greatest players in history

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 11:42am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 12:13pm

Sport is known as a great social equaliser – it transcends social, cultural, language and ideological barriers – and luxury watchmakers are aware of its influence. Brands associating themselves with sports can reach huge audiences who share a common passion.

One marquee brand that has successfully tapped into the association between human achievement and excellence in sport is Rolex, particularly in tennis. The brand and professional tennis first joined forces in 1978 when it became the official timekeeper for Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament in the world.

Rolex’s relationship with sporting events dates back to 1926 when its founder Hans Wilsdorf developed and patented the first water-resistant watch in the world and christened it the Oyster.

That following year he engaged the support of Mercedes Gleitze, the first female to swim across the English Channel. Gleitze swam the body of water separating England from France in 15 hours and 15 minutes, wearing a Rolex Oyster for the entire journey. The swim showed that Wilsdorf’s new watch could withstand many hours of submersion without failure.

Rolex has continued to work with other tennis tournaments such as the Shanghai Rolex Masters, the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, and the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in addition to two of the four grand slam events, Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

“Associated with the quest for excellence inherent in sport” is what the brand proclaims on its website. Present at more than 150 golf, sailing, tennis, motor sport and equestrian events, Rolex is an important sponsor for many professional sports.

The Shanghai Rolex Masters is a men’s tennis tournament played on outdoor hard courts annually during early October at the Qizhong Forest Sports City Arena. It is the eighth of nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments, and the only one that is not held in Europe or North America. Rolex’s partnership with ATP Masters 1000 in Shanghai stretches back to 2009.

Since entering the world of tennis 38 years ago, when it became the official timekeeper at Wimbledon, Rolex has maintained a substantial number of tennis ambassadors (which the brand calls testimonies). Past players have included Andy Roddick, Zheng Jie and Justine Henin – who would wear her Rolex on court.

The most famous has probably been Roger Federer, regarded as one of the greatest tennis players in history. Federer won the Shanghai championship in 2014 and has won 17 men’s grand slam singles titles, a record during the professional era.

Today, Rolex retains a number of contemporary tennis ambassadors including Grigor Dimitrov, Ana Ivanovic, Li Na, Juan Martín del Potro, Milos Raonic, Sloane Stephens, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Caroline Wozniacki and Belinda Bencic.

This year’s Shanghai Rolex Masters came to a successful close on October 17. In the final, Britain’s Andy Murray beat Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in straight sets to claim his third win in the event. The champion was presented with a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust 41, a fitting gift to celebrate the appreciation for precision and perfect timing, an ethos shared by brand and athlete.

Michael Luevano, executive director of the international division of the Shanghai-based JUSS Event Management/tournament director of Shanghai Rolex Masters, said: “Since its partnership with Rolex, this event has been named Masters 1000 Tournament of the Year by ATP players multiple times. This has helped it become one of the most appealing tennis events in the world. It won’t be easy for us to [achieve] such a status without the support from Rolex. ”