Understanding a brand’s DNA is not an entirely straightforward enterprise. Especially so if you don’t have any interest in the brand. Even when the brand’s DNA is explained to you, it can often make no sense. So it is for me with Fred Perry, a brand currently styling itself ‘ the home of authentic British street fashion’. Despite my ignorance, there’s no doubting the long-term success of the Fred Perry brand, however. It’s quite an achievement, that continuing success, given that, at root, it is based on the fame of a tennis player whose career took place eight decades ago.
I haven’t played a game of tennis for thirty years. I haven’t watched a game of tennis for thirty five years. That’s getting on for half of the period between Perry’s last Wimbledon triumph and that of Andy Murray this weekend. Tennis is not really a mass-market sport in the UK. Wimbledon-fortnight apart, hardly anyone pays attention to the ups and downs of the sport. There has been, though, no escape for even the most reluctant observer from the media’s incessant lament of the lack of a British winner from one decade to another, painfully repeated annually at this time of year on radio and TV, in print and online. On Sunday, Andy Murray finally silenced that lament (although already replaced by an anguished concern as to whence will come the ‘next Andy Murray’.). The question for me, though, is this: can the Andy Murray brand now escape the confines of the game of tennis and equal or even surpass that of Perry? Clearly his endorsements and sponsorships will now go through the roof, but they are one thing, the establishment of a brand like Fred Perry, the opening up of wide licensing potential to those who remain largely uninterested in tennis, is a challenge of an altogether greater magnitude. There does seem to be a connection between the two players: both are outsiders in an ‘establishment’ sport. Perry came from markedly working-class roots, and Murray’s own family background contains nothing of privilege, either. Perhaps that what gives truth to the Perry brand claim, and could do so for Murray, too. In fact, I would suggest that these two players are undisputed proof of what many Brits have stated for decades: until tennis as a sport truly opens itself up to players of all social classes, it will remain impoverished in truly top-class talent.
I reckon that the prospects for ‘brand Murray’ are excellent. Andy comes over as a down-to-earth guy, sensitive, clean-cut, patriotic (let’s not forget his breakthrough at Wimbledon with Olympic gold last year) yet in pure sporting terms highly talented, athletic and with a physique to be admired by both genders. He is just twenty-six years old, too, so aspirational in a way that lies closer to David Beckham than to the last British Wimbledon champ. His manager is Simon Fuller, no stranger to brand licensing success as the creator of the Spice Girls, among whose original line-up is none other than Mrs Beckham, ‘posh’ Spice herself. Andy is anything but ‘posh’ for all his (well-deserved and had-won wealth. For the sake of British tennis, let’s hope he proves to be a genuine inspiration. For the sake of British sporting brands, let’s hope he steals a bit of shelf-space from good old Fred in the years to come.