Chances are pretty high that if you or someone you know played sports growing up, you’re familiar with Wilson Sporting Goods.
Founded in 1913 as Ashland Manufacturing Company, the Chicago-based brand makes equipment for just about every sport under the sun, including but not limited to: tennis, golf, basketball, soccer, football, baseball, badminton, softball, racquetball and squash.
The company’s 140-person facility in Ada, Ohio, makes more than 500,000 footballs by hand annually, including every single iteration of “The Duke” utilized throughout the NFL. Wilson provides the official ball for the NBA, NFL, U.S. Open, French Open, WNBA, AVP, NCAA basketball and Basketball Africa League. Wilson sponsors some of the largest and most-successful athletes on the planet including Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Trae Young, Russell Wilson, Mookie Betts and Liz Cambage.
Yet while the company has been around for 108 years, it wasn’t until recently Wilson decided it was time to tell its story.
“There’s been zero reinvention—it’s just like a reawakening and it starts from within,” says Gordon Devin, Wilson president of sportswear. “It’s really about reminding us all of what’s happened over those 108 years, why this is the No. 1 sporting goods company in the world and all of these amazing attributes that make Wilson what it is.
“For me, it’s more of why haven’t we already done it? There is a Buddhist question, which is ‘When is now the right time?’ So now is the right time. It’s just because we haven’t already done it.”
While Wilson has been supporting athletes and their on-field endeavors for more than a century, the brand realized it was time to further that support off the field and court as well. In May 2021, Wilson introduced its first premium sportswear collection featuring both retro and contemporary styles for men and women. The brand will continue to double down in this area with upcoming tennis-inspired and golf apparel collections available this spring and summer, respectively.
To help tell its story, especially to consumers, Wilson opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Chicago in July 2021 and christened its flagship store in New York City in January. Wilson, which also has two stores in China, plans to have six stores in the U.S. up and running by the end of the year.
“Wilson’s been in and out of soft goods and apparel,” Devin says. “It’s had moments when it’s been good and it’s had moments when it hasn’t really been anything to write home about. We know that our biggest opportunity to unlock the value of the brand is to move it into product categories that are used more frequently by athletes.
“It’s great that athletes use our racquets, basketballs and footballs, but they’re used relatively infrequently and they’re purchased relatively infrequently, so our opportunity is we already have a great relationship with those athletes so let’s give them more of what they love.”
Wilson gave NBA players more of what they love when it returned as the league’s official basketball manufacturer for the 2021-22 season after 37 years, in time for the league’s celebratory 75th anniversary. Coinciding with the return to the NBA, Wilson also added Jamal Murray and Young as advisory staff members to help playtest, provide feedback and collaborate on Wilson basketball products.
“Premium partners like the NBA, NFL, AVP and NCAA are critical to our success,” says Kevin Murphy, Wilson general manager of team sports. “And we’re really proud of those partnerships because it’s basically an acknowledgement that you make the best product that goes on the field or court.”
Wilson has been a subsidiary of Amer Sports since 1989. In 2019, former Lululemon founder Chip Wilson purchased 20% of Amer Sports, which also owns Arc’teryx, Salomon, Atomic Ski, Peak Performance. Wilson Sporting Goods’ annual revenue has been estimated between $458.6 million and $518.9 million by various data and analytics companies.
Debating whether Wilson’s coming out party should have been done on its 50th or 100th anniversary is playing Monday morning quarterback. The company, while paying homage to its history and legacy, is focused on today and tomorrow.
“Our company’s changed in a major way in the past 24 months or so,” Murphy says. “We had a change in ownership of course, but the biggest change to me is that we have become more brand-centric where previously we were a portfolio-driven company. We’re so much more willing to take risks that it’s liberated us.
“I think we have a lot of good things coming together at the right time that’s going to help elevate us across all of our categories.”