As John Isner's match against Nicolas Mahutyesterday went on and on and on, many began to speculate, what sports drink company would try to cash in the longest tennis match in history?
The answer is actually easy given that Isner, who came into Wimbledon ranked No. 19 in the world, already has a deal with coconut water brand Vita Coco.
"We had a small campaign planned around John for the US Open," said Michael Kirban, the company's co-founder and CEO. "But we'll have a strategy session (today) about how we'll go about using his association with the match. I mean, we have to use it."
The match, which is knotted at 59-59 in the fifth set, resumes today from Wimbledon at 10:30 a.m. ET.
The association with Isner is a nice break for Vita Coco, which has more than 60 percent of the coconut water market, a business projected to be worth $60 million this year. Thanks to its natural sugars, electrolytes and high amount of potassium, coconut water — the liquid found in young, green coconuts — has been touted as a healthier sports drink. Vita Coco cartons claim that a similar serving has 15 times the potassium of leading sports drinks and its only ingredient is pure coconut water.
"The athlete drinking our drink now is the early adopter," Kirban said. "They're the yoga enthusiast, the marathon runner or the tennis player who has researched the benefits of drinking our product."
But greater distribution from the health food stores to the supermarkets to mass retailers will put the product in front of the face of more of a mainstream crowd. The growth prospects for the sector are promising. In September, Coke invested in Zico after Pepsi bought Brazil's largest coconut water company. Pepsi distributes O.N.E., while Vita Coco signed a distribution deal with Dr. Pepper/Snapple earlier this month.
"All the major players are now distributing coconut water," said Jeff Klineman, editor of Beverage Spectrum a leading industry trade publication that covers the business. "The big question is, will this be an industry worth a couple hundred million or will it hit a billion dollars?"
Klineman said that out of the top three brands in the — Vita Coco, Zico and O.N.E. — Vita Coco markets the least to the sports audience.
"They haven't really marketed it as much as a sports recovery drink," Klineman said. "It has more been about the lifestyle arena."
Vita Coco's approach is definitely more on the low key side. It's Web sitedoesn't mention that its investors include Madonna, Matthew McConaughey and Demi Moore. Or that John Isner — or US soccer star Jozy Altidore — is an endorser of the product. Instead, you'll see Vita Coco vans with coconuts and Brazilian girls on them providing sampling opportunities throughout the country.
Some observers might say that marketing Isner's moment could come off as less than authentic since the lanky American was seen during the marathon match chugging bottles of Evian, the official water of Wimbledon and the only brand along with Robinson's lemon barley water that can be shown on the court. But Kirban is quick to point out that Vita Coco did play a part.
"We had our local sales guy in London at the match," Kirban said. "At one point he held up a Vita Coco for John and he took it and drank it."
Kirban also points out that the way the company's endorsement deals are structured makes it clear that Isner is a fan.
Said Kirban: "Our deals involve some money of course, but it's also about a giving them a lot of product."
The 25-year-old Isner is building up quite the endurance resume. Besides being part of the longest match in tennis history, Isner saved 10 set points in a tiebreak in a first-round win over Victor Hanescu at last year's U.S. Open, which turned out to be the longest tiebreak of 2009. His name became mainstream when he defeated top American Andy Roddick two rounds later.
Besides Vita Coco, Isner is sponsored head-to-toe by Nike and gets paid to use Tourna Grip on his Prince rackets. According to TweetEffect, Isner had 2,280 followers on Twitter (@JohnIsnerTennis) on Sunday, before the start of Wimbledon. As of 6:30 a.m. ET on Thursday, he had 9,076 followers.
Early Thursday morning Isner wrote on the social media site, "feel like a million bucks." An hour later, he followed "....in quarters :)"
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