Wilson Sporting Items’ Current ‘Reawakening’

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Wilson introduced its first premium sportswear collection in May 2021 … [+] Tennis-inspired collection (above) in May.

Wilson sporting goods

If you, or someone you know, played sports when you were young, chances are you’re familiar with Wilson Sporting Goods.

Founded in 1913 as the Ashland Manufacturing Company, the Chicago-based brand makes equipment for just about every sport under the sun, including but not limited to: tennis, golf, basketball, soccer, baseball, badminton, softball, racquetball, and squash.

The company’s 140-person facility in Ada, Ohio, handcrafts more than 500,000 footballs annually, including every single iteration of “The Duke” used throughout the NFL. Wilson supplies the official ball for the NBA, NFL, US Open, French Open, WNBA, AVP, NCAA Basketball and Basketball Africa League. Wilson sponsors some of the greatest and most successful athletes in the world including Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Trae Young, Russell Wilson, Mookie Betts and Liz Cambage.

But despite the company’s 108-year history, Wilson recently decided it was time to tell his story.

“There was no reinvention – it’s like a reawakening and it starts from within,” says Gordon Devin, President of Sportswear at Wilson. “It’s really about reminding us all what happened in those 108 years, why this is the #1 sporting goods company in the world and all of these amazing attributes that make Wilson what it is.

“For me it’s more about why haven’t we done it yet? There is a Buddhist question that is, “When is now the right time?” So now is the right time. It’s just because we haven’t done it yet.”

While Wilson has supported athletes and their endeavors on the field for more than a century, the brand realized it was time to extend that support off the field and court. In May 2021, Wilson introduced its first premium sportswear collection featuring retro and modern styles for both men and women. The brand will continue to double down in this space, with upcoming tennis-inspired and golf apparel collections coming this spring and summer respectively.

To bring its story closer to consumers in particular, Wilson opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Chicago in July 2021 and christened its flagship store in New York City in January. Wilson, which also has two stores in China, plans to open six stores in the US by the end of the year.

“Wilson has been in and out of the textile and apparel industry,” says Devin. “There were moments when it was good and there were moments when it wasn’t really special. We know that our biggest opportunity to unlock brand value is to move it into product categories that athletes use more often.

“It’s great that athletes use our racquets, basketballs and soccer balls, but they’re used relatively infrequently and bought relatively infrequently. So our opportunity is that we already have a great relationship with these athletes, so we’re giving them more of what they love.”

Wilson opened his first physical store in Chicago last July.

Wilson sporting goods

Wilson gave NBA players more of what they love when it returned after 37 years as the league’s official basketball maker for the 2021-22 season, just in time for the league’s 75th anniversary. Coinciding with the return to the NBA, Wilson also added Jamal Murray and Young as consulting associates to help with playtesting, provide feedback, and collaborate on Wilson basketball products.

“Premium partners like the NBA, NFL, AVP and NCAA are critical to our success,” said Kevin Murphy, general manager of team sports at Wilson. “And we’re really proud of these partnerships because it’s basically a validation that you’re making the best product to put on the field or pitch.”

Wilson has been a subsidiary of Amer Sports since 1989. In 2019, former Lululemon founder Chip Wilson acquired 20% of Amer Sports, which also owns Arc’teryx, Salomon, Atomic Ski and Peak Performance. Annual sales of Wilson Sporting Goods are estimated by various data and analytics firms to be between $458.6 million and $518.9 million.

The debate over whether Wilson’s coming-out party should have been on his 50th or 100th anniversary is playing quarterback Monday morning. The company pays tribute to its history and legacy, but focuses on today and tomorrow.

“Our company has changed a lot in the last 24 months,” says Murphy. “We’ve had a change of ownership, of course, but the biggest change for me is that we’ve become more brand-centric where we were previously a portfolio-oriented company. We are so much more willing to take risks that it has set us free.

“I think we have a lot of good things coming together at the right time that will help us improve in all of our categories.”