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November, 2023

Net gains: How Tennis Australia serves up a unifying masterbrand approach for 25 million consumers – and put Canva in the hands of grassroots hubs

What you need to know:

  • Tennis Australia has created a new ‘tennis design hub’ in Canva as part of its new unified masterbrand program of work for coaches and clubs to bring a new level of simplified creativity to life at a grassroots level.
  • The debut of the new masterbrand strategy in October, undertaken in partnership with Hulsbosch, is the first unifying visual brand architecture ever created for tennis in Australia and stretches from the core parent brand to a growing pool of products, member associations and clubs.
  • The tennis governing body is also commencing work on a cast of new characters for its Hot Shots program pitched at younger players that will debut at the 2024 Australian Open. The aim is to retain a distinct narrative asset for younger players as it skews the Hot Spots Tennis brand towards a slightly older part of its 3-12 audience target.

The beginning of October was the point of no return for Tennis Australia and its masterbrand strategy. Working with brand design agency, Hulsbosch, the governing body launched a new positioning, brand architecture and visual identity for Tennis Australia, plus product offerings and member associations within its wheelhouse.

The multi-year project meant unifying logos and visual identity across an ever-widening array of tennis participation products, including the younger-oriented Hot Shots Tennis offering for kids aged 3-12 years, Cardio Tennis, and Pop Tennis, along with member associations nationally. At the same time, brand work had to connect the dots to a program of tournaments and events such as the Australian Open, Brisbane International and United Cup.

Some brands in the ecosystem barely had a tweak in 20 years, says head of tennis branding, Carly Duncan. More recent additions, like Cardio Tennis, gained facelifts but never quite felt like part of the bigger picture. Then there’s diversification of core participation products like Padel, introduced at this year’s Australian Open after gaining popularity in Europe, which was virtually a blank page.

“There’s never been an eye put it all on as a full architecture or connected portfolio. It’s been an exciting project to lead personally, but also to bring in the experts and Hulsbosch team and dive further and create something that’s well connected,” Duncan tells Mi3. She’s been working in the Tennis Australia marketing team for 11 years, the last three as tennis brand chief.  

“Ultimately, we’re living in a completely different world to the marketplace and sporting landscape we were in 20 years ago, when some of our brands were originally embedded into the Australia market. Whether you’re an organisation or a sport itself, being digital-first and multi-channel, and needing to do more for the same level of attention we would have attained 20 years ago is something that weighs heavy on our minds and we need to make sure we keep up with.”

Another motivator was timing. There’s no denying momentum to play tennis leapt up with a host of the best Australian players playing the game in quite some time, including Ash Barty and Dylan Alcott. The pandemic didn’t do any harm either, with tennis one of the few sports open to consumers physically distancing.

From 2020 to 2023, AusPlay data showed a surge in the number of tennis players, especially adults, who needed a way to be active and be connected. More than 1 million people were estimated to participate in tennis in 2023, or 4.9 per cent of the population. The largest percentage are 35-44 years old (about 190,000).  

“If there was ever a time for our leadership and everyone in the organisation to say we need to do this work, step back, look at ourselves and see how we are going to step into the future, now was it,” Duncan says.  

“There hasn’t been such an overt way to show we have evolved with it as a brand and show that connection back to our consumers.”

Consistency with inclusivity

The good news for Hulsbosch was Tennis Australia had put in some hard yards articulating its vision – ‘To create a playful world through tennis for everyone’ – as well as clearly defined audience cohorts.

“The team knew how each of the participation programs was to be positioned in terms of who they are targeting – all the personas and segmentation with the different audiences Tennis Australia wanted to reach,” says Hulsbosch client strategy director, Carolyn Pitt. “The challenge that came to us was wanting to have a brand that’s a connected portfolio, and how you create a visual identity that can be relevant to essentially 25 million Australians.

“The whole point of tennis is you can play it at any time throughout your life, no matter your background. How we did something that stretched that far was a very interesting challenge. It was about pushing and pulling the identity to make sure it’s relevant to audiences.”

Flexibility in a way that’s simple and efficient for the tennis team to execute and that’s intuitively appropriate for digital channels was the brief. A need to learn from, but neither beg, borrow or steal, from the successful Australian Open brand itself was equally paramount.

“It wasn’t even about thinking about how you do print and physical activation, although that’s a fun part of it as well, but making sure it works in the digital ecosystem. That’s something the tennis team were doing a lot of work on in terms of how they deliver things and connect everything throughout the organisation,” Pitt says.

Tennis Australia’s fresh brand identity soft launched in October and is being fine-tuned up to commencement of the summer season of events, culminating in the Australian Open 2024. The digital offering, consumer-facing experiences and campaigns are the first to wear the new brand look.

Duncan jokes the number of assets to rebrand is almost indecent to mention. “It’s like budgeting for a wedding – don’t ever total it up because it might scare you,” she adds.

What we’re doing differently is giving over control to these people who don’t have brand experience. Through technology, we're able to set it up in a way that is completely user friendly and to such a low level of risk, as we’ve created it ourselves. It allows them to personalise and show their own business within that.

Carly Duncan, head of tennis brand marketing, Tennis Australia

Getting ecosystem buy-in: The tennis design hub

As any brand manager or CMO can attest, when you’re an organisation with a network of business owners and stakeholders – in Tennis Australia’s case, coaches, clubs plus a volunteer network – a masterbrand strategy only goes so far.  

“We can put the lights on it, but what the consumer is going to actually experience is out of our control,” comments Duncan. “We want to make sure we give as much as we can to our delivery network resource-wise. This is the phase of work making sure they’re ready for the influx of participation, interest and hopefully fandom we will see in the next phase, which is the summer that’s coming.”

That’s where Canva comes in. “The ‘Tennis design hub’ is where, for the first time, we’re providing all this beautiful, ready made branded suite of resources,” Duncan says. “In talking about those coaches and volunteers, we needed a better way of just giving them what they needed so they don’t need to work it out themselves in the limited time they have. We don’t expect them to be brand managers, that’s our job .

“We set ourselves up with something like Canva beforehand; now, what we’re doing differently is giving over control to these people who don’t have brand experience. Through technology, we’re able to set it up in a way that is completely user friendly and to such a low level of risk, as we’ve created it ourselves. It allows them to personalise and show their own business within that.

“This is about doing things differently to ensure we can get the brand further through our community than we could achieve ourselves. It allows local tennis to shine through personalisation, whilst helping us to build a new, connected brand.”

The design hub is one of many steps ensuring Tennis Australia’s visual identity overhaul remained as inclusive and evolutionary as possible. An ongoing discovery and strategy process saw qualitative and quantitative research conducted regularly, along with talks via roadshows with coaches and people in the clubs to ask what mattered to them. Another opportunistic initiative was capturing key stakeholders at the 2023 Australian Open “in a moment where all eyes are on tennis to get across what they need and are looking for”, Pitt says.

National check-ins represented forks in the road and saw things go down a path Duncan and Pitt weren’t expecting. One hit in the first six months was deciding if this was an evolution or revolution of the masterbrand.

“We started on one side of the fence, then ended up returning to this being an evolution for the masterbrand itself,” Duncan says. “It still allowed us to do some very revolutionary stuff for other brands within the suite. But that fork in the road obviously would change everything we did from there.”

A creative agency always wants to do something new, Pitt admits. “But what we found out was the existing tennis logo had a lot of the qualities we wanted the brand to portray going forward. It had that fun, modern element and dynamic,” she says. “There was a lot we needed to take forward.”

Finding nuance: New characters coming for Hot Shots Tennis

That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for new elements. One Pitt and Duncan reveal is a fresh cast of characters in the marketing toolkit for Hot Shots Tennis. Details on exactly what shape and nature these characters will have is scant, but they will be used in everything from learning collateral to onsite at the upcoming Australian Open.

“Something new we haven’t done before is this idea of bringing characters to life in our brand, especially in the kids’ space,” Duncan says. “With our Hot Shots brand… we are intending for them to almost be launched through summer. It gives us this extra connection and story we can tell through that piece of work.

“We have never had that kind of content before, and it opens up all these new worlds we can use. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Hot Shots certainly has to stretch a long way, from three-years-olds arguably more interested in Bluey to 12-year-olds dipping into young adult fiction.

“What we found with the old tennis brand is it skewed too young. The specific brief around Hot Shots is how we make it appeal to that older end of kids playing tennis, as that’s where we need to build the most connection and have retention into the program,” Pitt says.  

“But because the identity is a little more grown up than previously, the question was how we make sure we maintain something that grabs the attention of younger kids and brings more personality and injection of fun into that identity. The guys came up with the concept of having characters, which might be a mix of animated and drawn, and which might come to life in real life.”

Tennis Australia has begun creating resources using the characters as learning tools to help kids understand court and game skills, as well as how tennis connects back to life skills and emotion.

“At next year’s Australian Open, we’ll have the physical version of these characters there, dancing around, giving kids high fives and the rest of it,” Duncan says. “This connected, playful world we have created has changed the game for us. Not only by creating more efficiencies in what we do, because we don’t have to have a completely different voice or personality for everything, which from a sustainability perspective is going to help us long-term, but it’s also a visual way to talk to our belief system. We believe playing makes life better.”

Initial learnings and ROI

The big prize Tennis Australia has its sights set on is becoming the number one participator sport in Australia by 2030. One pillar to this is its ‘Game On’ participation strategy, a virtuous cycle of inspiring more people to play tennis more often and in doing so, strengthen clubs, venues and coaches and the talent pipeline, which in turn, creates more fans and more participation.

“Brand health index and our marketing objectives for growing the funnel for tennis products are elements we will monitor and measure closely to show the correlation between our brands and the broader business ambition,” Duncan says.

Developing the masterbrand process also triggered a more holistic view of everything that is Tennis Australia.

“We needed some visual cues to help create that excitement and idea of doing things differently. The brand work itself has helped to underline the changes we’re making as an organisation that are more on the strategic level, from changing the programming content itself and what is delivered, to the types of partners coming onboard and models of governance across the country,” Duncan says.  

“Brand is a very dynamic way to do that. You can put a line in the sand on where you’re doing things differently.”

Initial indicators suggest things are on the right track for Duncan, short and longer term.

“Whether it’s off the back of the brand, and/or interest in tennis at the moment, we have seen in the last six weeks year-on-year growth, more interest and positive sentiment is growing. It’s where we want to be leading into the next summer,” she says.