Slazenger

Slazenger (/ˈslæzɪnər/) is a British sports equipment brand owned by the Frasers Group (formerly Sports Direct).[1] The company was established as a sporting goods shop in 1881 by Ralph and Albert Slazenger on London's Cannon Street.[2] Slazenger was acquired by Dunlop Rubber in 1959. Dunlop was acquired by BTR in 1985. Sports Direct acquired the business in 2004.

Slazenger
TypePrivately held company (1881–1959)
Subsidiary (1959–85)
IndustrySports equipment, textile, footwear
Founded1881
FounderRalph and Albert Slazenger
Defunct1985 (1985) (sold to BTR plc)
FateAcquired by Dunlop Rubber in 1959, then became a brand of BTR plc in 1985
Headquarters
Shirebrook, Derbyshire, England
,
United Kingdom
Area served
Worldwide
Products
OwnerBTR plc (1985–99)
Sports Direct Int. (2004–present)
ParentDunlop Rubber (1959–85)
Websiteslazenger.com

The Frasers Group offers a range of products under the "Slazenger" label, including equipment for cricket, field hockey, golf, swimming, and tennis, including athletic shoes and a clothing line.

Slazenger has the longest-running sporting sponsorship in the world, thanks to its association with the Wimbledon Tennis Championship, providing balls for the tournament since 1902.[3] Slazenger also produced the official match ball for the 1966 FIFA World Cup.[4]

History

In 1881, Ralph and Albert Slazenger, Jewish brothers from Manchester, established a shop on London's Cannon Street, selling rubber sporting goods.[2] Slazenger quickly became a leading manufacturer of sporting equipment for golf and tennis.[2] Four years after the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club held its first-ever championships in 1877, Slazenger produced 'The New Game of Lawn Tennis' (tennis rackets and balls) complete in a box.[5]

Tennis balls and parts manufactured by Dunlop Slazenger, on display at the Design Museum in London
Roger Federer hitting a Slazenger tennis ball at Wimbledon. The brand has sponsored the tournament since 1902, the oldest sponsorship in sport.

Their plant in Barnsley manufactured tennis balls and exported them round the world.[6] The plant closed in 2002, and production is now based in the Philippines.[6]

In 1902, Slazenger was appointed as the official tennis ball supplier to The Championships at Wimbledon, and it remains the longest unbroken sporting sponsorship in history.[6][7]

In 1910, a public company was incorporated to acquire Slazenger and Sons, "manufacturers of sports equipment, india rubber, gutta percha and waterproof goods, leather merchants and dealers",[8] which floated on the stock market.[2] In 1931, Slazenger acquired H. Gradidge and Sons.[9]

War years (1939–1945)

During the Second World War, Slazenger, like most nonessential manufacturing in the UK, redirected its production to manufacture a wide variety of items for military purposes, utilising Slazenger's expertise in wood and rubber manufacturing.

On 15 September 1940, during the Blitz on London, incendiary bombs fell on the Slazenger factory.[10] The Gradidge factory in Woolwich similarly suffered. The competing William Sykes Ltd factory at Horbury was undamaged by the bombings. Slazenger and Gradidge were able to continue production at other facilities but began a series of mergers with competing companies. In 1942, it acquired William Sykes Ltd to broaden its wartime production facilities.[11] Around 1943, Slazenger acquired F. H. Ayres. Founded in the year of 1810 by Edward Ayres, the firm manufactured a range of sporting equipment. It was best known as a quality manufacturing of equipment for archery, in particular, the bow (or longbow as it is more commonly known). Before man-made fibres became the standard for which bows are made, Ayres manufactured bows principally from yew (Taxus baccata), made to the standard measurements of the time – 6 ft (1.8 m) for men and 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m) for women. Thereafter the company was known as Slazenger Sykes Gradidge and Ayres.

The following lists a snapshot of some of their larger contracts completed for the UK Government in the years 1939–1945, as recorded by Slazenger, Gradidge, Sykes and Ayres in 1946:

Larger Completed War Contracts
Rifle Furniture - No.4, Mark 1 858,500 sets. Each set comprising: 1 Butt, 1 Forestock, 1 each Handguard (front and rear)
95,222 butts
150,000 forestocks
200,000 hand guard, front
200,000 hand guard, rear
Lanchester SMG Machine Gun Carbine Butts 80,000
Stoppers, Leak - Wooden 430,000
Bayonet, No. 5, Mark 1, Grips, left and right hand 466,500
Stoppers, Leak - Wooden 430,000
Detonator Caps 17,500,000
Standard Snow and Sand Goggles 3,000,000
Gloves, M.T (Motor Transport) 280,335 pairs
Gloves, Workman U.S Forces 122,450 pairs
Gloves, Boxing, 8oz, laced 22,239 pairs
Gloves, Boxing, 8oz, elastic 19,394 pairs
Machetes, 15 inch Blade Sheaths 250,400

Slazenger in New South Wales, Australia, produced naval utility launches at Newcastle, NSW for their WW II effort.

At its peak

Official match ball of the 1966 FIFA World Cup

In its heyday, the empire of Slazenger Gradidge Sykes and Ayres stretched across the world with either licensed distributors or agents and/or manufacturing operations in which the company had partnerships or licensing agreements with. Distributors were flung far and wide as far away as New Zealand and Africa, in remote places such as Iceland, Newfoundland, Madagascar and even Bolivia.

Selling a brand

In the days when wooden tennis racquets held no peer, brands such as Slazenger and Dunlop were a dominant force in the world, but with the popularity of the metal tennis racquets from the early 1980s and then the fast transition to even more popular composite materials such as fiberglass, graphite, Kevlar and so on more and more brands became available to the consumer. The new brands became popular due to their ability to meet consumer trends and demand for the new technology. Slazenger was slow to react. The company could not re-gear its existing factories to produce products in the new materials and there was a major existing investment in plant and raw materials. The company tried to market its product against these new products using quality as the unique selling point, but the quality level of imports quickly improved and soon Slazenger lost popularity and fell from prominence.

  • 1959: Ralph Slazenger Jr. sold the family business to Dunlop Rubber.[12]
  • 1985: Dunlop Rubber was purchased by BTR plc, which formed a Sports Group combining Slazenger with the Dunlop Sport branded goods.
  • 1996: BTR sold Dunlop Sport in a management buyout for £300 million - the buyout was backed by investment company Cinven. The new company was to be known as "Dunlop Slazenger".
  • 2004: CINVen sold Dunlop Slazenger to Sports Direct International for a reported £40 million,[1] who in turn sold on the rights to the Slazenger Golf brand in Europe to JJB Sports.

Global rights and licensing

Slazenger container and tennis balls at the 2012 London Olympics

The purchase of Dunlop Slazenger by Sports World International (SWI) did not confer global rights to the brand. SWI chose not to diversify the brands it acquired internally, and thus strain its own resources and finances, but to license them globally. With Slazenger, this was achieved successfully, with the Slazenger name being seen on a wide range of products not previously associated with the brand, such as sunglasses, toiletries and push bikes.

In Australia and New Zealand, the Slazenger brand is owned and licensed by Pacific Brands, with full and exclusive rights to sell and distribute throughout those territories. From the early 2000s due to poor management sales plummeted. Rather than investing in the brand, the Slazenger management began downsizing staff numbers, closing branches, cutting back long-standing sponsorship as well as stripping back costs elsewhere within the business. Despite these radical moves the Slazenger brand still ultimately offered no real return to Pacific Brands and in 2010/11 they sub-licensed it to Spartan Sports who had been operating in Australia since 2005 and is owned by Spartan Sports in Jallandhar, India (established in 1954).

Products

Range of products under the brand Slazenger includes:[13]

Sport / type Products
CricketBats, balls, team uniforms, helmets, cleat, gloves, pads
Field hockeySticks, balls, pads, gloves, goaltender masks
GolfClubs, balls
SwimmingSwimsuits
TennisRackets, balls, shoes
Clothing (general)T-shirts, polo shirts, jackets, hoodies, fleece jackets, sweaters, pants, shorts, leggings
Accessories (general)Bags, watches, sunglasses

Sponsorships

Slazenger label on a polo shirt

During its peak, many famous cricket players such as Sir Don Bradman, Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Viv Richards, Sir Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Rohan Kanhai, Mark Waugh, Jacques Kallis , Jason Roy, James Anderson Geoffrey Boycott used Slazenger's bats and products. The Pakistan cricket team wore the Slazenger kit in their winning campaign during the 2009 ICC World Twenty20.[14]

There are also many famous golf players who have used Slazenger products, such as Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Tom Weiskopf, Tom Watson and Johnny Miller. Besides professional golf players, film-star Sean Connery also wore the Slazenger v-neck jumper while playing golf in his free time.[15] Furthermore, in the golf scene at Stoke Park Golf Club in Buckinghamshire in the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964), he wears a burgundy v-neck Slazenger jumper and the Slazenger brand of golf balls are shown on screen and mentioned several times in dialogue—Bond: "You play a Slazenger 1, don't you?"—as they play a key plot point.[16][17]

References

  1. Wood, Zoe (27 December 2016). "Sports Direct sells Dunlop for $137m". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  2. J. R. Lowerson, 'Slazenger, Ralph (1845–1910)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 17 Jan 2014
  3. "A 115-year-old tale of sport's surviving sponsorships". Inside Sport. 15 October 2017. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  4. "The Footballs during the FIFA World Cup". Football Facts. FIFA. Archived from the original on 28 November 2013. Retrieved 6 July 2018.
  5. Williams, Jean (2014). A Contemporary History of Women's Sport, Part One: Sporting Women, 1850-1960. Taylor & Francis. p. 11.
  6. "New balls, please". The Guardian. 24 June 2002.
  7. "At 113 Years and Counting, Slazenger Maintains the Longest Sponsorship in Sports". S&E Sponsorship Group. 4 November 2015. Archived from the original on 17 June 2016.
  8. The Times, 29 May 1911
  9. The Times, 25 February 1932
  10. "Slazenger history". SlazengerHeritage.com. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  11. The Times, 14 September 1944
  12. Klaus Schmidt; Chris Ludlow (2002). Inclusive Branding: The Why and How of a Holistic Approach to Brands. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-230-51329-7.
  13. Slazenger store on Slazenger, 16 August 2020
  14. "Slazenger – All-Time Greatest". Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 29 September 2009.
  15. "Sean Connery and Slazengers jumpers". Slazenger Heritage. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  16. "Goldfinger inspired Sean Connery's lifelong love affair with golf". The Telegraph. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  17. "Slazenger Heritage | Sport legends and iconic jumpers". slazengerheritage. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
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