Ralph Lauren has long viewed the U.S. Open tennis matches as the perfect high-visibility opportunity to launch products. That includes everything from the oversize pony logo to polo shirts made from recycled plastic bottles.
But this year, the brand is taking a different tack. Rather than using the tournament as a marketing moment for the company, it’s shining a spotlight on the health-care community.
“The U.S. Open has been a platform for us for many years,” said David Lauren, vice chairman and chief information officer. “We’ve used it to celebrate new designs, new technologies, new fabrics. We introduced the big pony there, the touchscreen technology, QR technology. The U.S. Open has been an amazing platform. But this year was very easy. The idea popped out and it took one second. It was very obvious that this was not a year for a fashion message, it was not a year to celebrate Ralph Lauren’s new design, this was a story about celebrating heroes.”
Lauren said everyone is focused on living safer, healthier lives and Ralph Lauren has been working for the past six months to supply frontline workers with masks and other protective equipment and supporting health-care workers in a variety of ways, including bringing its coffee trucks to hospitals to provide free brew to those on the frontline.
“It just felt like we have this center court stage to do something that could celebrate heroes who are actually making the lives of people who are suffering better,” Lauren said. “These are heroes that we are grateful for and this was an opportunity to put them center-stage.”
So when the tournament kicks off on Monday, the ball people and on-court officials will be wearing polo shirts with the names of more than 150 health-care workers from New York City’s Mount Sinai Health System printed on the back. Since 2005, Polo Ralph Lauren has been the Official Outfitter of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships.
“We make customized shirts, so let’s put names of heroes on the backs,” Lauren said. “This is a statement for them this year, not for Ralph Lauren. We’re proud we were able to use this high-profile platform to celebrate real heroes.”
He said the shirts are light gray and “recede into the background. What pops are the names of these frontline heroes,” Lauren said. “We feel fortunate to have the stage to celebrate people who matter. It puts some personality behind some of the nameless and faceless — they’re no longer so nameless.”
Lauren expects this “wonderful salute” will be “an emotional moment” for the workers and their families. The health-care workers whose names appear on the shirts were chosen by Mount Sinai, he said, and include a cross section of employees.
“You might have an emergency room doctor and you might have the most junior person who just makes the ecosystem in a hospital possible, that person who signs your name when you arrive,” Lauren said. “They put their lives at risk just being there. The thing about a hospital is that it’s this amazing system where everybody has to work as a team and everybody relies on each other in order to save lives. In many ways, the ball people and the umpires on the grounds of the U.S. Open are also a team and they create their own ecosystem. Teamwork is what makes the U.S. Open successful. I think it’s interesting for one team to celebrate another team.”
Lauren said the shirts with the workers’ names will not be for sale, but customers can purchase one on the company’s web site and Polo app and customize it with the “name of a hero you want to salute” if they desire. “But that is not the intention. The shirts are pretty simple, the message is what this is about. The story is about our brand using our platform to tell a bigger story that has an emotional spirit and is much bigger than fashion. This is about Ralph Lauren celebrating life, heroes and American spirit.
“Sports is emotional and I think this adds an emotion and a spirit and a sense of heroism that transcends sports, Ralph Lauren and New York City. It’s very real and it’s very honest and it’s about these amazing people.”
The U.S. Open, like other sporting events, will be held without spectators and all on-court staff will wear a Polo high-filtration race mask, that will also be available for purchase beginning in October, with all of the profits donated to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization. In addition, the company will donate 50,000 pieces of tennis and athletic apparel products to the USTA Foundation, which supports nationwide programs that provide low-cost tennis instruction and education to children in underserved communities.