Stan Smith may have the quintessential endorsement deal.
Forty-eight years after the former tennis pro started wearing Adidas sneakers, he is still at it.
Last year, Adidas passed the 100 million mark for pairs of Smith’s signature tennis sneakers sold. Although his deal includes royalties, Smith declined to specify the amount he has brought in to date. Having consistently renewed his endorsement deal with the sneaker giant since the early Seventies, now Smith has a deal that will stretch on in perpetuity.
For Smith, a two-time singles Grand Slam champion, a successful endorsement deal comes down to authenticity.
“There’s got to be credibility in what you endorse, if you really want it to do well and to be effective as an endorsee or endorser,” he said, noting the need for the former’s selectivity. “Over the years, I’ve been asked to endorse a lot of different things, like a copper wristband that helps with any aches and pains. I said, ‘Well, I don’t have any. I’m not interested.’ It didn’t make sense….You simply can’t fake your way through this job.”
Indicative of his loyalty to the companies he supports, Smith has been the touring pro at Sea Pines Resort in Hilton Head, S.C. since 1971. “I can honestly say that this is one of the greatest resorts in the world,” said Smith, who is also president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Smith previously had endorsement deals with Wilson and Prince for racquets. “I’ve endorsed products that are really good,” he said. “That’s been my philosophy, that, and to stay loyal to companies.”
Nodding to Michael Jordan’s signature sneakers for Nike Inc., Smith estimates that Jordan may have done better since his sneakers sell at a higher price point. But it’s that “reasonable price point” — about $70 or $80 for the last five years or so — that Smith credits for the sneaker’s performance.
Though Smith wasn’t pleased to learn of Adidas’ plan to pull the sneakers from retailers internationally ahead of the relaunch, he said the strategy paid off because the brand brought his namesake sneakers “back with a vengeance,” doling out customized pairs to celebrities and influencers to help generate buzz.
Smith played his part in the product placement, too. He has given pairs of his signature shoe to members of England’s royal family. While sitting a row behind the Duchess of Cambridge in the royal box at Wimbledon last year, he caught her eye and deftly handed her a pair of Stan Smiths for Prince Louis. (Smith had planned to give the sneakers to her after the match as he had once before for Princess Charlotte.)
“A photographer got a shot of me handing her the shoes and it went viral all around the world,” Smith said.
Still, Smith knows some of the sneakers’ fans don’t know that he’s a person and not just a shoe. Regardless, the kicks have reached cult status, and Adidas’ steady style updates have helped drive sales for the sneaker that has solidified its place in fashion.
Describing a BBC Radio interview he had done with his niece earlier this month, Smith said she recalled how as a private school student in England, her physical education teacher told her she couldn’t wear Stan Smith sneakers because they were fashion shoes and not trainers.
“My niece said, ‘Well, my uncle won Wimbledon wearing these shoes,’” Smith said. “I don’t know if the teacher was that impressed with it. The point is it’s become a fashion shoe.”