Prince Global Tennis CEO Mike Ballardie fully understands how important the U.S. Open is to his company.
“It’s the moment in the calendar when anyone who is interested in tennis is engaged in tennis,” he said. “They are watching it and talking about it. It’s the moment when we are in the news, so it’s critical that we engage in the right way and present in the right way.”
But as Ballardie works to rebuild the Bordentown-based company a little more than a year after coming out of bankruptcy, he feels the company’s history and focus — and location — ultimately will be the biggest push for his brand.
“The retail sports trade industry in the U.S. views Prince as the only true American tennis company,” he said. “We have the support of the industry to make a comeback.”
Prince was the industry leader during the tennis boom, but eventually lost its way, Ballardie said, concentrating too much on business distribution and not enough on the consumer.
Ballardie, who took over as CEO in February, has made improving the company’s relationship with its core consumer — who plays three or four times a month — its primary focus.
To reach that audience, Prince is reconnecting with coaches — from private instructors to high school and colleges — to club pros at tennis clubs.
Prince has plans for new products, but all are based around tennis. That singular focus, as opposed to dabbling in other sports, is a huge advantage in Prince’s efforts to reconnect, Ballardie said.
“We’re in their world,” he said of tennis pros. “We understand their challenges.”
His company’s road is facing some challenges of its own. After being gifted what looked like a surefire future star when product endorser Marion Bartoli won at Wimbledon, Ballardie was stunned with the rest of the sport when she announced she was hanging up her raquet at age 28.
And while it was a stunner, there’s no time to weep over it.
“She’s such a great person and a great ambassador for our brand,” Ballardie said. “Whatever she decides to do, we’ll support her.”
Prince will go straight to consumers as well, from expanded social media outreach — especially during majors — to its new consumer store, which just ahead of the Open’s start in New York.
Ballardie was pleased to see the positive reaction from consumers:
“They were lining up to get in,” he said.
But more so, he was pleased to see the average tennis fan still recognized Prince as an industry leader.
“I talked to consumers at the opening,” he said. “They have no idea what Prince has gone through. It’s still a household name.
“We’ve got the consumers and the awareness of the brand — we’ve got all the ingredients for success.”