This year’s U.S. Open is missing a few big names in tennis, including Andy Murray and Serena Williams. It is also missing Nike Inc. at least, the traditional Swoosh store outside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The world’s largest sportswear maker has vacated its usual spot at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, instead choosing to sell tennis gear through its suite of smartphone apps and pop-up locations around New York. It is the latest manifestation of Nike’s goal to sell more of its wares online, as shopping habits change.
For years, Nike has held prime commercial real estate outside Arthur Ashe Stadium, which it used to sell T-shirts, zip-ups and other gear worn by star players Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova and Ms. Williams, among others.
Many sportswear brands like Adidas and Lacoste similarly use Grand Slam events like the U.S. Open to set up sales booths to try to capture the eyes and wallets of tennis fans. Adidas has a store on the site this year, as do event sponsors Wilson and Polo Ralph Lauren
But Nike is forgoing the traditional route this year, instead offering sneaker sales in pop-up locations around Manhattan and Queens, including one for a Federer-themed shoe sold through its SNKRS app. Users can sign up to receive push notifications that certain products are available in a given location.
It was Nike’s decision to opt out of the Open’s traditional vendor spaces this year, said a spokesman for the U.S. Tennis Association. USTA said Nike isn’t an event sponsor but had been a vendor since 1998. Rival Adidas has its own store on the site.
A spokesman for Nike said the company is continuing to talk with the USTA about retailing options for future U.S. Opens.
Earlier this summer, the company said it was aiming to “disrupt the sneaker shopping experience” by offering nontraditional releases in unusual places. The company has been revamping its distribution, including selling directly to Amazon.com Inc., as it battles slowing demand for sneakers and increasing competition from Adidas and Under Armour Inc.
Some fans in attendance this week said they were dismayed to be unable to find Nike’s usual kiosk. “Last year I bought the Rafa sneakers, and they were really good,” said Genner Goes, wearing a Nike hat. “I love Nike so I was a little disappointed.”
While Nike doesn’t disclose sales of tennis products, the company has a long tradition with the sport, and its first pro athlete endorser was 1970s Romanian tennis star Ilie Nastase, according to co-founder Phil Knight’s memoir. The company has also previously used the U.S. Open for surreptitious marketing tactics, bringing Michael Jordan to an evening match at Arthur Ashe Stadium in 2014 to create buzz for a shoe collaboration with Mr. Federer.