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|Products||Racquets, Tennis equipment, Cricket equipment, Golf equipment, Apparel, Accessories|
Slazenger // is a British sports equipment brand sold throughout the world, involving a variety of sporting categories. Established in 1881, it can trace its roots to 1810, and is today one of the oldest surviving sporting brand names.
Slazenger was founded in 1881 by a pair of Jewish brothers, Ralph and Albert Slazenger. Four years after the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club held its first ever championships, Slazengers produced 'The New Game of Lawn Tennis' complete in a box.
Slazengers were one of the dominant (wooden) racquet manufacturers in the world of their time. Over the years they produced such a wide variety of sports equipment from tennis racquets to clothing from golf equipment to rifles. But it was their bold move into tennis ball manufacturing late in the 1800s that arguably saw their greatest business achievement. Their plant in Barnsley manufactured tennis balls and exported them round the world.
In 1877 the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club revised the rules of the game and decided on a pneumatic and cloth covered ball (the first rules of 1875 had only stipulated "that the balls be hollow and made of India rubber ... balls covered in white cloth shall be used in fine weather").
In 1902 Slazengers were appointed as the official tennis ball supplier to The Championships, Wimbledon and, with the current deal set to run until 2015, it remains one of the longest unbroken sporting sponsorships in history. In 1877 there were 22 entries and 180 tennis balls were used, at the 1939 Championships there were 531 entries and 8,352 Slazenger Lawn Tennis Balls were used, by 2005 there were 668 entries and a staggering 52,000 Slazenger Lawn Tennis Balls were used.
During Queen Victoria's reign three manufacturing firms were founded in the 1870s and 1880s by Albert Slazenger and Ralph Slazenger (formerly Ralph Slazenger Moss 1845–1910), William Sykes and Harry Gradidge each originally manufacturing for the increasingly popular pastimes of the day – lawn tennis, football (soccer) and cricket.
Some 50 years or so earlier, the forerunner to them all had been established, The House of Ayres. This company had begun life in 1810 by Edward Ayres, five years before the Battle of Waterloo. First established in Clerkenwell, England initially as a cabinet maker and wood turner for the production of indoor games only he soon developed a wider range of outdoor sporting goods as well.
War years (1939–1945)
The bombing of England during World War II was the catalyst that brought the four companies together: known after 1940 as the Slazengers Sykes Gradidge and Ayres Group of Companies.
Probably a little-known fact was the Slazengers Sykes Gradidge and Ayres contribution to the World War II effort. With government contracts in hand the company set about manufacturing a wide variety of items for use during the war. Mainly utilising their expertise in wood manufacturing the company produced many various items.
On 15 September 1940 during a heavy air raid on London, incendiary bombs fell on the Slazenger factory. The Gradidge factory in Woolwich also suffered similar fate. The Sykes factory at Horbury was undamaged by the bombings, and although Slazenger and Gradidge were able to continue production at other centres it was perhaps a sign of the times that the four companies decided to pool their resources and form an association to work for the nation's war effort and then ultimately in peace time. Henceforth the company was known as Slazengers Sykes Gradidge and Ayres.
The following lists just a small snapshot of some of their larger contracts completed for H.M. Government in the years 1939–1945, as recorded by Slazengers, 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)|
|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|
|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|
At its peak
In its heyday the empire of Slazengers 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
It is probably fair to say that technology and to some extent complacency, played a major part in the rise and fall of this famous 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. Having a choice was fashionable.
The new brands became popular due to their ability to meet the consumer trends and demand for the new technology. Slazenger was slow to react, they could not re-gear their existing factories to produce these products in the new materials, they already had huge investment in plant and raw materials. The company tried to market its product against these new products using quality as the crux of the selling features, but the imports quickly improved their quality, soon Slazenger no longer could hold favour with the public. The brand slowly fell from grace.
- 1959: Ralph Slazenger Jr. sells the family business to Dunlop Rubber.
- 1985: Dunlop Rubber is purchased by BTR plc, which forms a Sports Group combining Slazenger with the Dunlop Sport branded goods.
- 1996: BTR sells Dunlop Sport in a management buyout for £300 million - the buyout was backed by investment company Cinven. The new company is known as Dunlop Slazenger.
- 2004: CINVen sells Dunlop Slazenger to Sports Direct International for a reported £40 million, who in turn sold on the rights to the Slazenger Golf brand in Europe to JJB Sports.
Global rights and licensing
With the purchase of Dunlop Slazenger by Sports World International did not come the global rights to the brand.
SWI has chosen not to diversify the brands it has acquired internally, and thus strain their own resources and finances, but to license them globally. With Slazenger this has been 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 Jal Andhar, India (established in 1954).
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 and Geoffrey Boycott used Slazenger's bats and products. The players who are sponsored by Slazenger currently are noted below.
Current cricket endorsements
- James Anderson
- Tim Bresnan
- Paul Collingwood
- Eoin Morgan
- Matt Prior
- Peter Davis
- Adil Rashid
- Matthew Salisbury
Though believed to be not a sponsorship, Slazenger Golf Balls were preferred by the character Auric Goldfinger in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger, while Bond himself could be seen sporting a Slazenger sweater.