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Wilson | 100 years celebration| sporting company
July 2014

A century of

Wilson excellence

Wilson celebrates its 100th birthday this year. During its century-long trading, the brand has shown that those who can look beyond challenges for answers, are those who will continue to trade … and see their next anniversary, reports CARIN HARDISTY.

Wilson, locally distributed by The Golf Racket, is one of the oldest sporting brands still trading. Having traded through wars and the Great Depression, the American brand is as strong as ever and today serves consumers in over 100 countries.

Their beginnings were humble. The brand was established in 1914 to transform stockyard by-products into racket strings, footballs, basketballs and baseball shoes, among others. It soon grew into an innovative sporting company that just grew and grew.

Over the years, Wilson acquired several companies that enabled them to make their own products: uniform, bag, football, tennis racket and custom-moulded product manufacturers, and a knitting mill. During World War II, however, most of their production facilities were needed to make products for war, which created a shortage of facilities to manufacture their athletic equipment and uniforms.

Despite this, the company decided it will concentrate its efforts on encouraging more youngsters to get involved in sport — and this allowed Wilson to maintain its high profile in the sporting goods industry and grow even faster after the war ended in 1945.

Wilson started moving abroad during the 1960’s, opening offices in Hong Kong, Great Britain, Germany and Japan and opened their first overseas manufacturing plant in Puerto Rico.

It was in 1970, when PepsiCo acquired the company, that Wilson received a big financial-injection. This added financial backing meant that enabled the company to expand further internationally and to open another international manufacturing plant — this time in Ireland. Because of all the exposure through partnerships with athletes and associations, both in America and abroad, PepsiCo divided the company into three divisions: Golf, Racket Sports and Team Sports.

Westray Capital Corporation acquired Wilson Sporting Goods in 1985 through one of its affiliates, WSGC Holdings, Inc., which merged in 1989 with Bogey Acquisitions Company — an affiliate of the Amer Group. Wilson was therefore essentially operated by Amer Group, which took advantage of Wilson’s international presence and expanded on this by opening subsidiaries in Japan, UK, Germany, France and Canada. Wilson was soon sold in over 100 countries and by the end of the decade, they had opened new plants in Haiti, St. Vincent, Canada, and Scotland.

Players shape the brand

During the 1920’s, Wilson led the trend to use professional athletes and well-known coaches to endorse their products. They started the Wilson Advisory Staff — a group of veteran and future star players who represent the brand and participate in product development. Golfer Gene Sarazen was the first staff member, and coach Rockne was very influential with the development of a football ball that changed college football. After Rockne’s death in 1931, Wilson switched their focus from football to golf.

This led to the development of the R-90 sand wedge, Blue Ridge Golf Clubs, and the criss-cross layered technology in woods.

American tennis star Jack Kramer, the Father of Modern Tennis who established the first pro tour, joined Wilson’s Advisory Staff in 1949. It is estimated that during the next 30 years, more than 10-m autographed Jack Kramer tennis rackets were sold.

During the 80s, over 100 athletes — such as Sam Sneed (golf), Walter Payton (American football), Michael Jordan (basketball), and Roger Clemens (baseball) — endorsed the brand. Today, star players like tennis players Serena Williams and Roger Federer, Derrick Rose (basketball) and Tom Brady (American football) are among the athletes who endorse Wilson.

It has entered into partnerships with several American sporting associations like the National Football League (NFL, which is possibly the longest-running partnership with a sporting association. They have been the official ball for the National Basketball Association (NBA) since the 70’s, when the brand supplied uniforms to almost every Major League Baseball team. At this time they also provided the official uniform and clothing to the US Summer Olympic team.

Wilson has been the official game ball of the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) since 1996 and they signed with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 2002.

The brand has also been the official tennis ball for the Australian Open since 2005.

Centenary celebrations

To share their centenary celebrations with their customers, the brand ran the 100 Venues in 100 Days contest on their website until the 24th of June — with daily prizes up for grabs, as well as a grand prize of a trip to the US Open Tennis Tournament. Each day a hidden image of a new venue was gradually revealed on the website and entrants had to guess the name of the venue in as short a time as possible.

They also launched special centenary celebration products, with designs that take inspiration from some of their most memorable products over the years. Locally these products — including a commemorative racket and bag combo, and white tennis balls — were launched in June.

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