The Wimbledon Men's final was certainly not a classic. An injury effected Marin Cilic combined with Roger Federer's sheer dominance made it something of a procession. But the fact that Federer won, and was many people's favourite for the crown, shouldn't hide how extra-ordinary a result this was. It is a full 18 years since the Swiss superstar first featured at SW19 and five since he last lifted the title. He lost half of last season to injury leading many to declare that the age of Federer was over. 2 Grand Slams in a year later, how wrong they were. Federer's win, and this resurgence in form has cemented him as the greatest tennis player of all time and earned a spot in a special club, the most marketable athletes in history. So what is it that makes Roger Federer such a draw for the media and for brands?
You wouldn't say he's the most relatable athlete in the world. A Swiss man playing a sport with a distinctly middle and upper class tradition, he doesn't have the everyman (or woman) appeal of say a Michael Jordan, Andrew Flintoff, Jessica Ennis-Hill or Tiger Woods in his peak. He seems perfectly nice, but he doesn't have the infectious personality of say a Usain Bolt or a David Beckham, or even the lightening rod personality of a Muhammed Ali or Floyd Mayweather. He's won on an unprecedented scale, which is certainly a factor, but so has Serena Williams, so did Jack Nicklaus, Dan Carter, Michael Schumacher, and while at their peak these were/are all incredibly marketable athletes, Federer seems to have outstripped them. Why?
The most iconic and marketable athletes represent something - a way of life or a mentality. Choosing to follow an athlete and buy products in is a statement of belief in what they believe in because the clothes we wear and the athletes we support are outward representations of what we want to world to know about us. It's the same reason people buy Macs to appear creative, or wear clothes with Harley Davidson logos to look rebellious. The choices we make reflect who we want to be, and choosing to follow the endorsement of an athlete is no different.
Michael Jordan and his famous Jumpman logo represents that there is no limit to what you can achieve. An important message, particularly for young black American who remain his biggest fanbase. Usain Bolt represents that it's ok to have fun while being great and Muhammad Ali and Tiger Woods in his prime represented that striving to be dominant and mercilessly crush the opposition can be cool.
So what of Federer then? Certainly he has that air of dominance, but he isn't particularly relatable and his doesn't have a hugely dynamic personality. What he does have though, is a sense of style, and a sense of values, that is truly irresistible. He plays the game not just well, not just effectively, but beautifully. Read a match report of Federer game and the writer probably waxed lyrical with emotive language about the quality of shots. It is truly inspiring. Compare it to his great rivals Novak Djokovic (ruthless efficiency) and Rafael Nadal (terrifying athleticism) and clearly Federer's style is the one people find most inspiring. He also just seems to play the game the right way. Gracious in victory or defeat, not petulant (something Andy Murray has found himself accused of) and not aggressive. Cooler than cool, suaver than suave. James Bond on grass.
Just as Bond is one of film's most iconic characters, and one of it's most sellable, Federer is an aspirational figure. Talented, cool, but still moral, still respectable. It is these things that have cemented him as one of sports most iconic figures, and will continue to have him representing brands for years to come.Suggest a correction