Re: James News!
Blake at stake
posted: Tuesday, April 25, 2006 | Feedback
A couple of years ago, I wrote a story about the practice of tennis players painting their rackets to look like current models, even though they were using old ones. I thought the practice was a bit shady given that some of the companies were telling consumers that players were playing with one racket model, but were really playing with another.
Yesterday, the Sports Business Journal reported that James Blake, despite signing with Prince in December, was still using his old Dunlop racket, with a Prince logo on the knob.
So what ethics are involved here?
First, let me say that this type of stuff happens all the time. Tennis players and golfers sign with other companies so they can begin a relationship, but the athletes aren't willing to make an immediate switch because they're not confident with the equipment from the new deal yet.
It's definitely a Catch-22. Athletes have to be able to jump from company to company, but they should not be expected to play right away with their new brand's equipment.
Linda Glassel, vice president of sports marketing for Prince, said there was no attempt to deceive consumers, noting that at Prince's Web site, Blake's racket is listed as experimental. Blake is working toward eventually playing with Prince's new O3 technology, a racket with holes in the frame.
"James is working with us to help develop the best product in tennis," Glassel said. "This has been an ongoing, rigorous development process and it's not unusual in our business that you don't go directly into the new company's technology."
In fact, when Blake changed from Wilson to Dunlop, he did not start using the Dunlop racket until he was comfortable playing with it.
So I understand transitions have to be made. Athletes can't automatically switch right away -- there's too much at stake. And there's too much at stake to share ideas with companies without signing with them first.
However there is an ethical question with Prince promoting Blake. It's OK for Prince to let consumers know Blake is working with them, but they have gone too far putting the "P" on the racket knob, and "Prince" on the frame. It's misleading to the people who see it.
I also think that Prince should only have Blake on the company's Web site if they explain the relationship. Yes, they have the word "experimental," but I think the consumer deserves to know more about how they are working together.
They can obviously remove all of that when he legitimately puts a Prince racket in his hands sometime in the next couple of months. Blake is ranked eighth in the world, and with Andy Roddick's slide is the most marketable American tennis player, but I think it's the right thing to do.
Lastly, while Blake knows what he is doing, I don't believe he is deliberately trying to deceit consumers. Out of all the athletes I've dealt with, Blake is one of the most keen, savvy and real professionals in any game.