Umpire chair branding key to Barclays’ record Wimbledon sponsorship

(Photo: AELTC)
(Photo: AELTC)
  • Bank replaces HSBC as banking sponsor
  • Deal is the biggest in AELTC’s portfolio
  • Significant uplift due to major court-side exposure

The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (AELTC), organiser of the Wimbledon Championships, has secured the largest sponsorship deal in its history after bringing in Barclays as its new banking sponsor to replace HSBC.

SportBusiness Sponsorship understands the deal, announced last month, is worth around £11m a year and will run for seven years from 2023 to 2029. It surpasses Rolex’s deal with the AELTC, which is worth £10m annually, and is an enormous increase on HSBC’s prior agreement, which was worth around £2m a year.

The deal came about as HSBC’s five-year term expired at the end of the 2022 event, prompting the AELTC to put the banking category rights out to tender. The deal was initiated under the AELTC’s previous commercial team, led by Gus Henderson, and was seen to fruition by his successor Usama Al-Qassab. IMG, longstanding agency partner to the AELTC, was also involved in the agreement.

A critical factor in the fee was the inclusion of court-side branding assets, specifically on the lower section of the umpire’s chair. These assets are prized in any Wimbledon sponsorship deal, as the AELTC offers so few of them compared to rival Grand Slams.

The umpire’s chair previously featured two AELTC sponsors, Robinsons and Slazenger. But, as first reported by SportBusiness, Robinsons ended its 86-year association with Wimbledon in June. Slazenger’s logo will only feature on the back wall of the court from the 2023 event onwards after the amount of sponsorship inventory available to the brand was reduced in its renewal with the Grand Slam this year. At the 2022 championships the umpire’s chair featured a logo celebrating Wimbledon’s centenary, which served to put the asset in the shop window and allowed the AELTC to establish its media value over the course of the tournament.

Other Wimbledon sponsors with court-side branding include Rolex, Oppo and IBM, all of which pay significantly more than HSBC did. The earlier banking sponsor did not have court-side assets included in its deal. All court-side branding is displayed discreetly, in keeping with Wimbledon’s carefully managed brand identity, and it is understood Barclays’ logo on the umpire’s chair will be displayed in similar fashion.

Barclays will also provide banking services to the AELTC as part of the deal, as HSBC did in providing a £200m loan in 2019 to finance the club’s plans to expand into the adjoining Wimbledon Park Golf Club, and make improvements to No.1 Court.

SportBusiness Sponsorship understands the open tender process attracted several interested parties and four banks made it to the final stages: HSBC, Barclays, Citibank and JPMorgan, which also sponsors the US Open.

Slazenger and Robinsons branding on the umpires chair at the 2019 championships (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

HSBC was keen to continue its relationship with the AELTC, which has run for 15 years, but ultimately lost out. While the bank had a strong relationship with the Grand Slam, concerns were raised about its appetite to activate the sponsorship rights to their full potential.

One of the assets in its original deal, which covered the sponsorship of the AELTC’s junior tennis competition – the ‘HSBC Road to Wimbledon’ – was eventually taken over by Vodafone in 2021 as part of its sponsorship deal and rebranded ‘Vodafone Play Your Way to Wimbledon’.

Moreover, in June news broke that UK members of parliament had written to the AELTC to oppose HSBC’s sponsorship of the tournament over the bank’s support of China’s imposition of a new security law in Hong Kong. The MPs wrote that: “to receive financial support from a bank which profits from human rights abuses is a stain on that [Wimbledon’s] exemplary reputation”.

Grassroots commitment

It is understood that Barclays not only made the highest offer in the tender process, but that the AELTC was particularly enthused by the bank’s commitment to its charitable arm, the Wimbledon Foundation, which aims to tackle social disadvantage in the local region and promote healthy and active lives.

As part of the deal, the bank has committed to an annual donation to the foundation, which SportBusiness Sponsorship understands equates to around 10 per cent of the deal value. While details of Barclays’ plans for the sponsorship are yet to be finalised, the AELTC is understood to have been impressed with the breadth of the bank’s ideas for how to activate the rights, and its track record in doing similar things in other sports. The agreement is also expected to include a component devoted to the development of grassroots tennis.

As part of becoming the first title sponsor of the FA Women’s Super League from 2019-20 to 2021-22, Barclays also became the Lead Partner of the FA Girls’ Football Schools Partnerships, a project to develop female players in 100 hubs around the UK. Earlier this year Barclays renewed its WSL deal for three years from 2022-23 to 2024-25, with further investment in women’s and girls’ football part of the package.

Barclays’ focus on promoting grassroots development more broadly is exemplified in its choice of American Top 20-ranked men’s tennis star Frances Tiafoe as its brand ambassador to launch the AELTC sponsorship. Tiafoe’s story – a son of Sierra Leone immigrants whose father was a caretaker at a tennis facility where Frances and his brother lived in an onsite office during the week – is an inspiring narrative that aligns with Barclays’ mission to use sport to promote inclusion and opportunity.

The AELTC is known for wanting its Official Partners to provide a degree of utility – with Rolex, for example, providing timekeeping, Jaguar operating the service speed gun and Ralph Lauren providing outfits for the officials. Barclays’ commitment to tennis development aligns with this approach, albeit in a broader manner than the aforementioned sponsors.