“A Babolat tennis racket is sold every 20 seconds in the world”

June 2, 2022 at 11:55 am by Nicolas Toison

Encouraged by its ambassadors, Rafael Nadal and its youngest Spanish alter-ego, Rafael Alcaraz, the Babolat brand is in the health of steel, in its tennis market, and increasingly in the paddle.

At the moment, Porte d’Auteuil, in the courts of Roland-Garros, the tennis festival in France. But also, for Baoblat teams, partner of 49 players of the table where clay court legend Rafael Nadal, a particular workload. Who are these ambassadors and how are they recruited? What is its role in the brand? Or even, Babolat’s position in the tennis segment and especially, padel? The quantity is as questionable Sportune posed with Jean-Christophe Verborg, world marketing director, of a Lyon-based company …

As a French company, sponsor of the best ground players at the moment (Nadal, Alacaraz, etc.), is this two weeks at Roland-Garros a major conference of the season for you?

Jean-Christophe Verborg: There have been some major meetings with the pros, but it’s true that Roland-Garros remains one of the important tournaments of the season. It was a competition that was very hard to win, very physical. It’s a grand slam taking place in France, so it’s an event not to be missed. When our players succeed at Roland, we are obviously very happy. This is the Grand Slam we have won the most, of course with Rafael Nadal, as well as Li Na, Francesca Schiavone, or Garbine Muguruza. In addition to being a French company, the tournament also mobilizes many teams, highlighting the scope of the event.

What is good Roland-Garros for you?

Jean-Christophe Verborg: First, the athlete. I’m glad in this 2022 edition that Rafa is there, but the fact that there is a young generation of talents, like Carlos Alcaraz, Holger Rune, Felix Auger-Aliassime, or even Leylah Fernandez. These are the young people who are winning in the right way, with the right attitude and the right appreciation. You can see how much fun they have on the court. Their personalities are very important to us, and that’s more than just the athlete. For our teams, this Roland-Garros allows us to see agents, players and coaches under normal conditions. This hasn’t happened in a very long time. The last two editions were difficult, but this year everything is back to normal. In terms of hospitality, it’s much simpler. Roland is a tennis party, so being unrestricted is happiness.

What is Babolat’s weight in the tennis market?

Jean-Christophe Verborg: We are truly a leading brand in the tennis market. We have had a historic growth of +40% in tennis volume, with the Babolat tennis racquet being sold every 20 seconds worldwide. The growth is also not credible in paddle, an emerging sport. Eric Babolat’s desire is for the brand to be imagined as the number 1 for tennis and racket sports enthusiasts, and our players are part of this strategy.

Is the racket the number 1 product for Babolat on the market?

Jean-Christophe Verborg: Yes. However, we must not forget that the brand was created in 1875, by Pierre Babolat, but it was only in 1994 that Babolat marketed rackets. If you put that into perspective when we created our brand, it looks very new. This decision is beneficial, as it allows the company to move from a B2B (Business to Business), with our machines and our ropes, to a B2C (Business to Consumer). The racket gave global visibility to the brand, which contributed to its development.

What makes a good ambassador today?

Jean-Christophe Verborg: There are several criteria to consider. There’s the performance, but not in any way: “What are the values, emotions and qualities that our players carry, so that all the people who love Babolat want to be associated with it? This is the process of our thinking. My work is complicated because, usually, we are looking for children who are 11 or 12 years old, and we have to project ourselves over a decade, to say to ourselves: “What is their personality? What are they carrying? Can they win? “. If we want to be visible, we have to win, but a player’s charisma, his ability to generate emotions, and to offer high-quality tennis are important factors.

How many athletes does Babolat have under contract?

Jean-Christophe Verborg: We have approximately 120 players under international contracts. It ranges from young 10 -year -olds to Rafael Nadal, who was our highest ranking element on the tour. We are not looking for quantity, but quality.

And how many of these Roland-Garros?

Jean-Christophe Verborg: We had 29 men and 20 women in the main draw. For the juniors, 9 men and 9 women participated in the competition. However, for our best young people, in most cases, they prefer to favor the professional circuit over young competitions, over a more long -term approach.

How do you recruit ambassadors? Like Alcaraz, whom you saw at age 10, is it a reality in the market to recruit very young?

Jean-Christophe Verborg: When our rackets were launched in 1994, the brand was recognized for its strings, but the credibility of our rackets took a bit of time. We had to convince almost every player. Then we said to ourselves: “Even if it takes a while, let’s build our team of the future”. We went to attend youth tournaments (the Petits As, Orange Bowl, etc.), and there we saw young people, like Rafael Nadal. That’s how we built our team, but that didn’t stop us from having Andy Roddick, Carlos Moya, or Kim Clijsters. Now, the situation is somewhat different. All racket brands are fighting to have the best talents. In Babolat, the goal is not to shut down a talent as soon as possible, but above all to build a true story. There is a need to link a human project and a product project. We do not do sponsorship, but long term partnership. This does not prevent players from signing late. For example, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, we recruited him in 2010, when he was in the world top 10. Dominic Thiem, too. He was 75th in the world when we teamed up with him.

What is the latest nugget Babolat has recruited?

Jean-Christophe Verborg: There are a few, but in Asia, an important market for us, there is a young Chinese player whose name is Juncheng Shang, who has very good potential. He is 17 years old, and he is 401st in the world. He’s one of the elements that Roland-Garros junior can perform, but he’s on the senior approach. This is a profile we want: left -handed, talented, humble … Then, he already has the necessary efforts to succeed at the highest level.

Is there a hierarchy in terms of visibility with your ambassadors?

Jean-Christophe Verborg: Treating the 70th in the world would be the same as the number one 1. Then, Rafael Nadal got a big spot on his record, but the expertise and the follow-up would be the same for each of the 120 players. Babolat is a team, but tennis is an individual sport, and according to the results the players will take a more important place. Rafa as one of the greatest sportsmen of all time, it’s only normal that he has an important place in our team. Don’t hold back on activating your legend. Managing a “monster” of its kind is certainly certain, but that doesn’t mean we don’t treat others as well.

What are their brand roles?

Jean-Christophe Verborg: We should always take inspiration from what players tell us to find a solution. At the same time, Babolat has teams of engineers, and research and development evolving, to offer new products to players. For example, 2009 was a difficult year for Rafa. Toni Nadal (her coach at the time, editor’s note) came to us to tell us something needed to change. At the time, I knew that product marketing had a string in development. We have a need for the player, as well as something new in one of our products. And that’s where the development started, then the launch of RPM Blast to be adopted by Nadal. So permanent change allows us to move in the right direction. We also talk to them about designs. Cameron Norrie was in the company on Sunday in Lyon (May 14-21) for makeup stories. It will be the same for Dominic Thiem. We need their feedback to make them comfortable in court. To be effective, it is also very important that we have known them for a long time. There aren’t 15,000 times a year to try, so we have to be great when players need changes.

Interview with Nicolas Toison

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