Merchant of Tennis caught up with Wilson's Hans-Reh Martin in the summer of 2020 to get his thoughts on Wilson, Clash and tennis in 2020.
Hans-Reh Martin serves as the Global General Manger of Racquet Sports at Wilson Sporting Goods Co. Previously, Martin spent 14 years at Nike in various roles such as sales and marketing. Eventually in 2009, he finished his career as General Manager of Tennis, Basketball, Indoor, Swim, and Brand Jordan for Europe, Middle East and Africa. Before joining Wilson in 2014, Martin functioned as the Chief Commercial Officer at Kettler: a German company producing riding toys, leisure gear, patio furniture and exercise equipment.
The Clash has become a huge success here in Canada for most retailers. Can you share with us what it has meant to the Wilson Brand?
It’s a true game changer in the sense that it’s a completely new franchise, a new name that we brought to market and usually you have certain expectations but our expectations have been exceeded by far, not only in Canada but also globally.
What were the origins of the Clash racquet? It’s so different from traditional racquets and what was the end goal for Wilson in the development of this racquet?
The brand overall is all about innovation but also design. I think if you look at the tennis market right now, (and I think that’s also part of the success story of Clash) is that Clash brought a technical revolution. It is a true innovation story which helps players of different levels to perform better and to have a better consumer experience. On top of that, we were able to combine with a very appealing design, aesthetics – so the combination of those two factors created quite a bit of success.
To the product creation and development part, I think what also helped us was the fact that actually this racquet was created over 3 years’ time. Usually our development cycle is about 18 months and this time we took even more time and we went through numerous situations and I think in the end we were able to really bring almost the best possible version of a Clash last year in February 2019. I would attribute it to the many test cycles and play test cycles we went through and the consumer feedback. I think also we didn’t rush things and I think that’s why the racquet resonated so well.
With the onslaught of COVID 19 there have been many changes in the world especially how we interact. More and more consumers have had to go online to purchase their necessities. How do you feel the pandemic has changed the world of tennis for the retailer?
From a global perspective, many stores have had to shut down and I think like any other industry, you have to be creative in order to keep your business going, so curbside pickup and things like that, at least that’s what I’ve heard from some retailers in the States – they try to be creative. Obviously, online sales started to play an even bigger role. I think retailers, some of them who haven’t invested too much into their e-commerce capabilities; I think they realize that it would be good to have this distribution channel.
I think yes, COVID 19 does have an impact on the tennis industry like it does on almost every other industry right now.
What role do the pro tours play in the marketing for Wilson? Especially given the fact that we may see little to no professional tennis this year.
I think it’s always exciting if you think of the Grand Slams or any high profile events. Tennis is front and center in the media. For the tennis consumer it obviously helps. It drives excitement, it drives energy. Naturally this does have an impact. However, I think that still there’s the core tennis consumer. Once the sport reopens, they will still go out and play and enjoy themselves. This is what we hear, is that people are so excited to go back on the court.
Right now people try to be creative, they play in the driveways. I’m sure you saw on the internet some of the videos and it’s really cool. I think there were two Italian girls hitting the ball from one building to another.
I think consumers are very creative. I think everyone is very hungry to play and get back on the court. I do believe that there is a lot of excitement and energy around the sport despite the fact that we won’t see a lot of professional tennis this year.
The Triniti ball has received a lot of interest from many consumers. Can you elaborate how this product began and what do you see for the future of this ball and these types of products?
I think it’s a very exciting product because as you know, sustainability in different aspects is on the top of the mind for many consumers. Imagine the plastic ball packaging is also something that we looked at [to find] a different solution to it. We said: “okay is there any way we can innovate in a way that this tennis ball can obviously put a ball under pressure and keep the pressure inside the ball?” How can we kill multiple birds with one stone and so we came up with this innovative core of a tennis ball, which doesn’t leak the air – so the air doesn’t come out of the ball and stays inside the rubber core and still provides the same playability characteristics of a pressurized ball.
I think this is a very exciting tennis ball innovation and I believe that this is something that will pick up the pace. We already see a lot of governing bodies and tournaments (after we launched this ball in September last year) have shown a lot of interest in this ball.
I can share with you that the future stars event in October last year – the WTA tour event was played with the Triniti ball and the response was exceptionally good. I think what was interesting first of all was that the performance of the ball was good – no issues at all. I think even at one point, all the players were asked how they felt about the story and the goal of the Triniti ball and what we can do from a sustainability perspective to support the sport. There was unanimous excitement amongst the players. They felt that this is a path that should be further explored and accelerated.
Wilson became the Official Ball of Roland Garros this year. How will Wilson bring this endorsement to life?
I see the dates shifted from end of May to beginning of June now to end of September, beginning of October. I think there are still options on the table, in terms of how they would like to go about this event and I think that once the French Federation has finally determined how they would like to execute on the event format, I think this will inform us with what we can do, what’s possible basically on site and off site. So basically, wait and see the situation at the moment. We are waiting to hear back from the French Tennis Federation on what is the final decision on the tournament format.
View the Wilson Roland Garros collection for official balls and more gear inspired by the French Open
Roger Federer has been at the top for a long time. Are you prepared for the next generation of young players and do you think that once the big 3 (Roger, Rafa and Novak) retire the professional tour will suffer?
I was asked this question before, but I think Roger put it very well when he once said “yeah you know at some point I will stop playing tennis, but there will be another number 1 and other exciting players coming up.”
We had the same conversation when Agassi and Sampras retired and they stepped off the court and everyone was concerned, but then suddenly there were new players emerging and eventually it was Roger, followed by Rafa and now you have Djokovic. We will not see dominant players for a shorter period of time like we see right now, basically maintaining the number 1 spot for 6 consecutive months or even an entire year. I’m pretty sure over the next few years there will be other Rogers, Rafas or Djokovics coming up.
The professional tennis tours are discussing merging together. Do you believe that will ultimately be good for the game?
It’s up to the governing bodies to make this decision – I would refer to them. If you compare to other sports like soccer for instance or basketball or other professional sports, I think there are potentially some benefits. On the other hand, if you look at how things are being handled at the moment, I think it’s great to see that there is a lot of dialogue between the ATP tour and the WTA tour but also the other governing bodies and I think that’s what is needed. I think it can only be good for the game if there is additional communication and additional dialogue between the governing bodies. I think this will help the game.
In your career at Wilson do you have 1-2 favourite memories?
As you know, I used to work for Wilson before. I think this speaks to the strength of the Wilson brand is how we in the end made Steffi Graf switch from another brand to Wilson. It was a 2 year process. In the end it was about the product, the innovation and our research and development department – the engineers, the designers. I will never forget this process over 2 years. We failed. I still recall, we failed with the play test because we hadn’t listened to the athlete well enough and then we got another chance almost a year later and we got the job done. I think that it is one of my best memories that I recall, while working for Wilson.