Rivard: Renault – new driving force behind Félix Auger-Aliassime

That was indeed the Renault logo you noticed on Félix Auger-Aliassime’s previously blank right sleeve.

The badge of the French automobile manufacturer suddenly appeared on his shirt at the Australian Open, just as his fellow Adidas athletes were suiting up in their Melbourne collection apparel for the season’s first Slam.

Renault isn’t new to the sponsorship game and there wasn’t a lot of info online last week about Félix signing with the conglomerate, so one can only infer a) both parties wanted to keep it quiet (which seems a bit surprising in the marketing world) or b) they wanted to see how long it would take for people to notice.

Image : RDS

I’d have leaned towards option b, since Renault was just as discreet when it quietly released its new logo in 2021, but it turns out there was an option c, which I’ll explain later.

I didn’t catch sight of the distinctive diamond until the first few minutes of Auger-Aliassime’s third-round win over Francisco Cerundolo.

To satisfy my curiosity, I contacted sports marketing consultant Ray Lalonde, former marketer at NBA Europe and the Montreal Canadiens.

“Along with golf and Formula 1, tennis is a sport in which athletes travel the world and are in the media week after week. That’s not the case for those who play one of North America’s five professional team sports. So, it’s a global opportunity for businesses to gain exposure and shine,” he said.

Félix is ​​far from a walking billboard. He signed with Adidas for shoes and apparel and Babolat for racquets. He tells time on a Tag Heuer and inked a deal with Flair, an Alberta-based airline, after his run at the 2021 US Open (so did Leylah Fernandez).

In September 2021, the A3S logo of the relatively unknown A3 Surfaces antimicrobial anodized aluminum treatment maker popped up on his left sleeve.

Photo: AFP

Based in Chicoutimi, Québec, with operations in Canada and abroad, A3 Surfaces has developed an innovative process to reduce the use of drugs and, by extension, disinfectants, particularly in hospital settings.

While it may constitute an unusual choice for a tennis player, signing with A3 Surfaces made sense to Félix: it’s a business in his home province working to stop the spread of disease. And that’s really to his credit.

But back to his newest partnership.

Renault is built on 125 years of brand identity. In recent years, the group has often ranked third behind Toyota and Volkswagen in passenger car sales.

So Félix’s new deal isn’t a trivial one. Only the details and the announcement were missing.

Renault’s official statement came on January 23, two days after Auger-Aliassime’s AO loss. But considering his well-known humility and discretion, we may not get much in terms of details.

Photo: AFP

As Lalonde pointed out, the contract may not be set in stone, but because the AO is a prime platform, the automaker may have seen the Slam as a good opportunity to test the waters.

“There’s nothing surprising about the way things happened,” Lalonde said. “They put the logo on his sleeve to judge the effect and probably wait and see what the reactions would be. Then, when he was eliminated, they made an official announcement. I’m guessing that, in a perfect world, Félix will stop by Renault’s French headquarters to meet with employees, take pictures and make a worldwide announcement.”

Lalonde also noted that the strategy is the same as the one used by the player’s camp and A3S. Félix made the announcement at A3 Surfaces’ headquarters and met with staff.

Photo: Rocket Lavoie / Le Quotidien
Photo: Michel Tremblay / Progrès

Auger-Aliassime has found another partnership in which the goal is to help others. He joins Dutch wheelchair tennis champion Diede de Groot and French hopeful Luca Van Assche as part of a trio of spokespersons for the Give Me 5 program—Renault’s CSR initiative for young people and priority neighborhoods. The brand now aims to develop Give Me 5 internationally in collaboration with its ambassadors.

De Groot is the World No. 1 in singles and in doubles. She is the reigning champion at Roland-Garros and has 31 Grand Slam crowns in her trophy case: 16 singles and 15 doubles titles won since 2017.

As for 18-year-old Luca Van Assche, he won the 2021 French Open junior title without dropping a set. He’s currently the youngest player in the Top 150 and won his first ATP Challenger in Portugal in December 2022.

“I’m proud to be associated with Renault, as we share the same ambition and values. The Give Me 5 initiative focuses on promoting tennis in priority neighborhoods, so it’s a cause particularly close to my heart. We are going to work on expanding it together,” said Félix in a press release.

As far as how much Félix stands to collect, Lalonde relied on his knowledge and experience to speculate. “What Renault is saying is ‘Félix Auger-Aliassime is one of the new faces of tennis. It makes us look younger. It makes us believe our vehicles and our brand will be perceived as younger and more dynamic because we have Félix with us’. Whether they pay him in money, cars, benefits or whatever else, a company of this magnitude pays a player with international visibility over a million dollars to be on his sleeve. No doubt about it.”

Is that just as much or even more than his main sponsor? Lalonde doesn’t think so.

How much does the deal with Adidas bring in for Félix considering his current status? “Probably between five and ten million dollars a year,” he estimated.

The vehicle manufacturer will likely get the return it’s banking on. In Melbourne, Félix played four long matches over seven days. Type Auger-Aliassime and AO 2023 in your browser and you’ll see that 8 of the first 14 photos of Félix are of him in his AO shirt complete with the Renault logo.

Montage: Renault

The approach may not be a scientific one, but it does mean something.

Félix Auger-Aliassime is the face of Canadian tennis and one of the many faces of the post-Big 3 era. He’s already positioned himself as a gentleman and has never been embroiled in any type of controversy or negative situation. And that’s exactly the type of person sponsors want to work with. His recent charity work in Togo (which I wrote about December 7) only adds to his exemplary position.

And so does Renault’s Give Me 5 social program.

“What Renault saw is a young athlete with a rare calm and serenity—traits companies like Renault, like Adidas and like Tag Heuer really love,” Lalonde explained. “They think ‘Wow! We’re proud to be with Félix Auger-Aliassime. He’ll be such an ambassador for the sport for many years to come.’”

Exactly the qualities brands saw for decades in another tennis player with whom Félix happens to share a birthday.

Indestructible Andy Murray

Montage : Sky Sports

Andy Murray never ceases to amaze us with his resilience and iron will.

There’s no stopping this tennis machine.

After a brilliant career and three Grand Slam titles, his broken body had logically suggested he retire. So, three and a half years ago, he said goodbye and underwent his second major surgery in a year. He re-emerged with a new titanium hip and would finally be able to enjoy a warrior’s rest.

Photo: Twitter / ATP

Six months later, once the pain had dissipated, Andy’s passion urged him back into the game. Despite his first- and second-round losses at tournaments he’d once won, he kept at it.

The most recent chapter in the saga came in Melbourne last week. Once again, we were all flabbergasted by his determination and defiance.

On January 17, he battled for nearly five hours to hold off Matteo Berrettini (13) (6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (6)). And as if that wasn’t enough, he did it again on January 19 against hometown hero Thanasi Kokkinakis at the outcome of a nearly six-hour brawl. Down two sets to zero and 2-5 in the third, he pulled off a stunning 4-6, 6-7 (4) 7-6 (5), 6-3, 7-5 triumph.

Photo: AP

He’d also just won the longest match of his career.

Unreal.

As expected, two marathon matches in a 60-hour span took their toll on the 35-year-old former No.1, and his four-set loss to Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round wasn’t a huge surprise.

Photo: AP

Listing the rallies in which Sir Andy clocked a bunch of miles to reach often out-of-reach shots and then return them without flinching is near impossible. Still, tennis writer Gaspar Ribeiro Lança managed to aptly sum up Andy Murray’s entire career in one point.

It was a glorious day for fans on social media, who paid countless tributes to the gladiator.

But now that his latest exploits are behind us, the question remains.

Isn’t it time for professional tennis to address this logistical problem that inevitably creates a lot of injustice and leads exhausted potential winners to certain defeat?

I’m talking about a tiny revolution to end tennis matches at a predetermined time. It’s not normal for athletes to play until all hours of the night and then get up at dawn to do it all over again against an opponent who’s had several extra hours of rest and whose metabolism isn’t totally off-kilter.

Should matches end at midnight?

What do you think? Write to me and let me know.


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Twitter: @paul6rivard

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