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What happened to Slazenger?

History, curiosities and decline of the brand that made tennis and sports history

What happened to Slazenger? History, curiosities and decline of the brand that made tennis and sports history

In the world of professional sports, brands that make technical clothing and equipment are constantly battling to increase visibility and turnover. The race is always on to sponsor the most famous and successful athletes, to become partners of the most illustrious events, to be forerunners in the realisation of innovative products in design and technology. In the past, there was a brand that had achieved excellence in all these aspects, but which today, although still in the market, has lost so much power and visibility: Slazenger.

Slazenger is a British company specialising in sportswear and accessories, founded in 1881 by Ralph and Albert Slazenger in London. The history of Slazenger is closely linked to the history of sport, in particular tennis and cricket. In 1902, it became the official supplier of tennis balls for the Wimbledon tournament for the first time, marking the start of a relationship that continues to this day and is the longest-lasting business partnership in the history of sport. During the Second World War, Slazenger supplied tennis balls for matches played by British soldiers, while after the war it concentrated its production on tennis racquets. Around the same time, the company expanded into cricket, becoming a leading brand in this sport as well. In the 1970s, it established itself as one of the most famous brands in the world of tennis, thanks to collaborations with great champions such as the American Jimmy Connors and Billie Jean King, winner of 39 Grand Slam titles (but it also boasts collaborations with other legendary names such as John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova in its history).

Slazenger has always tried to look to the future by manufacturing sports equipment with innovative materials and special designs. In 1935, the company produced the first fluorescent tennis ball, which became very popular for night games. In the 1960s, it launched the 'Challenge', the first synthetic leather football, which replaced the traditional animal skin, and a few years later, it marketed the first aluminium tennis racket, which was soon a great success. The history of the British company tells of an attempt to carve out a space for itself in other sports, but also of a whirlwind of sales and acquisitions that saw the company play a leading role. In 1959, Ralph Slazenger Jr. sold the family business to Dunlop Rubber, which was then bought in 1985 by the BTR group. During the 1990s, Slazenger continued to focus on tennis and cricket, but also expanded into other sports such as golf, badminton and squash. In 1996, BTR sold Dunlop for £300 million to Cinven, who renamed the company Dunlop Slazenger and, eight years later, sold the company for 'only' £40 million to Sports Direct Group (now Frasers Group). Over the past few years, Slazenger has expanded its product range to include clothing and accessories for yoga and general fitness.

Yet, despite still being active, in its most recent history Slazenger has experienced a sharp decline in terms of market and, thus, popularity. But how could this happen to such a prestigious brand? What are the reasons that explain the collapse of a brand that has sponsored authentic legends in sports history and innovated - often successfully - in design and technology? Hard to say for sure, it is likely that the reasons are to be sought by mixing a different range of factors. The entry of large multinational companies and the emergence of new brands have made the market more competitive. In addition, Slazenger has been slow to respond during the transition to new materials for the production of tennis racquets, has encountered difficulties in entering the Asian market and, finally, has probably also paid the price for its recent inaptitude to adapt to changes in consumer taste, neglecting the public's increasing openness to fashion and image even in sports goods.