Steffi Graf became Stefanie Graf in 1998. The nickname of a tennis prodigy is today the patronym of a 45 year-old lady who goes about her life far away from the tennis court but close to children, to whom she has dedicated her foundation. Longines supports it as part of a well-balanced sponsorship strategy.
“Tennis doesn’t really interest me any more. That chapter is now closed.” Stefanie Graf leaves little room for doubt when asked about her life in 2015. Visiting the Roland Garros tournament the former world number one acts as an ambassador for Longines in aid of children who have been traumatised by exile, war and violence. “Children for Tomorrow” her foundation, has been supported by Longines since 2008.
Such partnerships are not that common in the business of sport. Stefanie Graf, who earned some 22 million dollars in her career, married André Agassi in 2001, himself a winner of an additional 31 million. So it’s by no means a question of money.
Furthermore, both spouses manage their own foundation, both have retired from their sport and therefore offer much less media exposure than the current champions. So why engage with a couple that is doubtless still glamorous but much less visible than any other ambassador who is still active in the sport?
The key word is elegance
The official reply from Longines comes as one word: “elegance”. The brand groups its ambassadors under this heading, without necessarily communicating what the objective criteria for judging such “elegance” are.
In reality, the balance among the Longines ambassadors is subtle and comprises a mixture of visible stars and lesser-known but highly active personalities, in other words a mixture of form (media exposure) and substance (work on the ground by those who have retired from their careers).
This strategy started in 2007, when Longines took over tennis from its sister brand Rado. André Agassi signed up with the brand in the same year and was followed by his wife the following year. High-profile actors such as Simon Baker and Kate Winslet later joined the committed duo. And the Longines sponsorship model was born.
From Roland-Garros to Kosovo
Stefanie Graf’s commitment is as deep as it is tangible. “We are based in Hamburg but we also work in Cape Town, Eritrea and Kosovo,” she points out. “We work with children who are sometimes not even two years old, with the help of psychologists and translators. We have a permanent team of 20 people who have already helped some 350 children.”
It’s easy to imagine what a return to the world of tennis by Steffi Graf would generate in terms of enthusiasm...and visibility for Longines. But the woman concerned dismisses this out of hand: “As a player, there is no question of it, I don’t play any more and in any case my body would not be able to withstand it (Editor’s note: Steffi Graf had already suffered major injuries and undergone operations to her back and knees in 1997 and 1998. As a coach I would be on the road for around 30 weeks of the year but today I have a husband, two children and a foundation. My life is already busy enough!” So only the legend of Steffi Graf remains, but given that she still has a loyal following of fans from 7 to 77 years old, it is still strong even 15 years after her retirement.