Premium sportswear startup Castore last year committed £8m over eight years to sponsor Andy Murray, a deal some characterised as a gamble with the tennis player's long-term fitness in question. The brand's co-founder Tom Beahon opens up on the first six months of the partnership.
Castore signed Murray in January, but revealing the deal was overshadowed by the athlete's emotional announcement that his on-court future was in doubt. Three months later, during a formal announcement of the sponsorship, he said he hoped to continue to compete if his injuries improved.
“Andy Murray is one of the most dedicated, hardworking, driven and ambitious athletes on the planet. If there is even a 1% chance that he can make a comeback, then we could never bet against him. If anyone can come back, it is him,” says Beahon.
Speaking to The Drum after Murray and mixed doubles partner Serena Williams' were knocked out of Wimbledon, Beahon is already optimistic of the Murray effect on the fledgling company.
Described by GQ as ‘The Rolex of the sportswear market’ the Liverpool-based brand touts superior, lighter garments designed for elite athletes using raw materials, reportedly five times more expensive than the likes of market leaders Adidas and Nike.
But since it snatched Murray from Under Armour, the market newcomer has benefited from the Google searches of a curious public inquisitive about this new brand backing the British number one.
Castore's website saw 25,000 monthly visits in April according to SimilarWeb data, which then rose to 47,000 in June. In the first week of July, with Wimbledon in full swing, peaks of 12,000 and 10,300 daily visits coincided with Murray fixtures.
In just two matches, Castore nearly generated as much traffic as it did in the whole of April. Crucially, Beahon says about 87% of Castore’s revenue is generated direct by its website so the peaks give him confidence in the partnership's commercial rewards to come.
"Having elite athletes wear the product in competition gives you an instant authority and an authenticity that we need as a digitally-native brand,” he says.
“Andy is one of the very few athletes in the world whose recognition is so high and reputation so global, that whether he's playing or not, he's still getting the attention and the fans are still going to love him. He has a connection with people and we went into the partnership fully expecting that it would outlive his tennis career.”
Murray’s involvement is already driving global sales. Since his signing, Castore says it saw a “significant increase” in international revenue in South Korea, Singapore and Japan which have not historically been “big markets” for the company despite having a presence.
“He’s brought us customers from countries that would just not have been possible without him in all honesty,” says Beahon.
Murray has reportedly taken a stake in the company and will help grow it further, with it courting £10m in funding this year. At this early stage, there is now an Andy Murray tennis line, featuring a range of premium court and training gear for men, women and children brandished with his name.
Whether he plays at the top again or not, Beahon knows Murray will encapsulate the brand’s ‘Better Never Stops’ strapline and it didn’t want to risk missing out on the chance of contributing to the Scot’s comeback story.
“Andy as an athlete and as an individual perfectly embodies our ethos so whether he's coming back to win the US Open in September or we are telling the story of his journey, there's power in both of those elements,” he adds. “We'd love to see him back competing at the top level but equally we're certainly not reliant on that happening.”
The Murray Plan
Regardless of whether Murray is on the court or commentating on the side-lines, Castore doesn’t plan to launch an above-the-line campaign any time soon. Instead, Beahon wants to use him to “build the grassroots game in the UK” and star in original content on social and digital channels.
“We won’t predictably plaster our superstar’s image all over above the line ads. We will build the grassroots game and show his training, his physical, mental and emotional preparation, and how he deals with stress.” Beehon says.
There’s a very real issue the brand is looking to address with this approach. This year, UK participation in the sport was down 9%. Jamie Murray, tennis professional and Andy’s brother accused the LTA of failing to capitalise upon the success of those at the top of British tennis.
Beahon adds: “We are really going to try and encourage young people from maybe backgrounds that wouldn't traditionally play tennis to take an interest. The fact that participation hasn't increased during his career is very strange indeed.”
Inspired by how Lululemon rejuvenated the women’s sportswear category, Castore is also looking to offer a similar alternative for men, as a British brand. “Britain has a phenomenal sporting heritage and it doesn't make sense that there isn't a British sportswear brand.” Later this year it will make a broad push into womenswear (although Lululemon’s physical store menswear fizzled out), and in 2020 it will move into footwear.
Last year it received funding from the likes off former Saatchi & Saatchi chief executive and Net-A-Porter investor Arnaud Massenet. With that funding under its belt it pushed into new sports vertical golf which has been “dominated by a small clique for a long long time and there's not been a huge amount of innovation or newness.”
Meanwhile, it will continue to activate with Murray, and cross its fingers he makes a Tiger Woods-style triumphant return to the top of the sport after his injury.
Murray is no stranger to a sponsorship deal and has often leaned upon his dry wit to draw attention to a brand. The Drum previously assembled the best when it appeared he was retiring from tennis with his hip injury.