The story behind New Balance’s ‘Call Me Champion’ campaign for Coco Gauff

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The Narrative Behind New Balance’s ‘Call Me Champion’ Campaign Featuring Coco Gauff

For hours after securing victory at the 2023 US Open, Coco Gauff clung to the baggy white T-shirt she had thrown on over her match attire during the trophy ceremony.

This shirt, worn by the 19-year-old tennis sensation, bore a single sentence in bold black script on the front:

‘Call Me Coco Champion.’

The road to this celebratory garment had been a journey spanning several years for New Balance. Their partnership with Gauff began in 2018 when she turned professional at the age of 14. The Boston-based sportswear company inked her to an endorsement deal, setting the stage for what was to come.

Last year, Gauff further solidified her relationship with New Balance when she became the sole active player in professional women’s tennis to have a signature sneaker. During this year’s US Open, she sported her custom shoe, the New Balance CG1, as she clinched her inaugural Grand Slam title.

In celebration of this significant achievement, New Balance resurrected the “Call Me Coco” slogan from their original marketing campaign. However, this time, there was a slight modification.

“We’ve recognized Coco’s potential since the beginning of our partnership, and we’ve never doubted that potential, whether on or off the court,” stated Evan Zeder, Head of Global Tennis and Baseball Sports Marketing for New Balance. “New Balance has been preparing as if Coco winning a Grand Slam could happen – as if it were inevitable. From our perspective, it eventually became a question of whether this US Open would be that moment.”

The special-edition T-shirt became available on New Balance’s website shortly after Coco Gauff’s emotional victory at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, where she defeated Nike-endorsed Aryna Sabalenka with a score of 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the US Open women’s singles final. The initial batch of these commemorative shirts, numbering in the thousands, sold out within five hours. Following a restock, the shirts have once again been completely sold out.

Following the conclusion of the US Open, New Balance disclosed that their website had received a staggering 145,000 unique visits to the T-shirt’s page on newbalance.com. This surge in interest was accompanied by a remarkable 500% increase in keyword searches for “Coco” throughout the month of September.

Furthermore, New Balance reported that the “City Brights” colorway of the CG1, the same shoe worn by Gauff in the final, had become the brand’s best-selling footwear model across all sports during the same month. Currently, only one unisex shoe size, the M14/W15.5, remains available for purchase online.

Evan Zeder, dressed in New Balance attire, played a significant role in the entire operation, from gaining legal approval for the shirt’s design to ensuring that the shirts were readily available in case Gauff secured the victory. He emphasized that they had been prepared with the shirt for several tournaments, waiting for the right moment to release it.

In a touching video capturing the reaction of Gauff’s friends and family when she clinched match point, Evan Zeder can be seen as the first person embraced in elation by Gauff’s mother, Candi. His presence at the US Open final not only symbolized support for New Balance’s tennis icon but also ensured that Gauff, her family, and friends could revel in the joy of the moment and the commemorative T-shirt marking their partnership.

Candi Gauff (second left) and Corey Gauff (center), parents of US Open women’s singles champion Coco Gauff, and coach Pere Riba (right), react to her victory search after her win against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus during the US Open tennis championship 2023 on Sept. 9 in New York.

Evan Zeder shared insights into the meticulous planning behind the release of the “Call Me Champion” shirt. Approximately 50 shirts in various sizes were prepared and securely stored in a convenient location, akin to a Trader Joe’s bag stashed in a locker within the players’ lounge. This strategic storage ensured quick access when needed. Upon Gauff’s victory, a member of their team promptly retrieved the shirts, with Coco’s agency prepared to provide a ticket for the shirt bearer in case of any security concerns.

Zeder noted that New Balance had secured approval from the Gauff family to release the shirt if Coco emerged victorious at the 2023 US Open. As soon as she clinched the title, Candi Gauff eagerly requested the championship swag celebrating her daughter’s remarkable achievement.

Interestingly, New Balance did not sell any of the shirts on-site at the US Open when Gauff secured her victory. Instead, the entire set of approximately 50 shirts was exclusively distributed among Gauff’s camp. The only exception was a heartfelt gesture, as one shirt was given to a young child who had noticed the bag of shirts and politely asked, “Can I have one?

Tennis player Coco Gauff won the US Open while wearing her signature shoe, the New Balance CG1, in the brick red and thirty watt “City Brights” colorway.

Evan Zeder vividly recalls his initial encounter with Cori “Coco” Gauff when she was a 14-year-old visiting New Balance headquarters in Boston with her family. This first meeting left a lasting impression, as Gauff later went on to craft a handwritten note addressed to New Balance’s Chief Marketing Officer, Chris Davis, expressing her gratitude for their consideration and support. In October 2018, New Balance officially announced a multiyear endorsement deal with the young tennis sensation.

By July 2019, Gauff had achieved a historic milestone, becoming the youngest player in tennis history, at just 15 years and three months old, to reach the main draw at Wimbledon. Her remarkable Wimbledon debut featured a straight-sets victory over the legendary five-time tournament champion, Venus Williams.

Reflecting on those early days, Zeder remarked that initially, many referred to her as “Cori Gauff,” but Coco was steadfast in her preference to be addressed as such, with her father being named Corey. In collaboration with the Gauff family and Coco’s agency, TEAM8, New Balance proposed the idea of creating T-shirts to encourage everyone to call her Coco. This concept evolved into the comprehensive “Call Me Coco” campaign, which became a testament to her identity and a celebration of her unique journey in tennis.

Following the initial release of the “Call Me Coco” T-shirts in 2019, New Balance had the foresight to consider a potential relaunch of the campaign slogan, particularly as Coco Gauff’s Grand Slam performances continued to gain momentum. The brand reintroduced the “Call Me Coco” shirts during the 2022 US Open, coinciding with the debut of Gauff’s inaugural signature sneaker, the New Balance CG1. Despite her loss in the quarterfinals at the 2022 US Open, New Balance had faith in Gauff’s potential and the enduring partnership they were building.

The pivotal moment arrived at the 2023 US Open when Gauff secured her first Grand Slam victory, becoming the first American teenager to achieve this feat since Serena Williams in 1999. With this historic triumph, New Balance proudly reinforced the message that the tennis world should indeed be calling Gauff a champion.

Evan Zeder emphasized the significance of the “Call Me Champion” T-shirt, recognizing that no one can diminish the significance of Gauff’s inaugural Grand Slam win. This T-shirt serves as a symbolic celebration of the beginning of a remarkable partnership, highlighting that both Coco Gauff and New Balance are poised to achieve even greater heights in the future.

References

andscape.com/features/the-story-behind-coco-gauff-new-balance-call-me-champion/

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