A couple of months ago in Melbourne, Australia, Sir Andy Murray was enduring some of the most difficult days of his landmark tennis career.
After struggling for two years with injuries that had ruled him out for months at a time – including a chronic hip ailment that made daily life, never mind elite sport, a wearying ordeal – Scotland’s 31-year-old former world number one told press assembled ahead of the Australian Open that he was entering his last few months on the court. He would battle through the first Grand Slam of the season before undergoing an essential hip operation, and would try to make an appearance at Wimbledon, scene of his most famous victories, before calling it a day for good.
That, in truth, was not the most upbeat occasion to note the little-known brand of sportswear Murray was clad in publicly for the first time. In January, Murray began a long-term deal with a British startup named Castore. The tennis world could be forgiven for allowing the news to pass by with little comment.
A second serve for the new partnership came in early March under more auspicious circumstances in the exclusive surrounds of Queen’s Club – the west London home of the coveted Wimbledon warm-up tournament, known today as the Fever-Tree Championships, that Murray has won a record five times. On this occasion, the media had convened for better news.
“I want to continue playing,” said Murray, speaking in a press conference marking the proper launch of his agreement with Castore. “I said that in Australia.
“The issue is that I don’t know whether it’s going to be possible. I’m a lot happier now than I was in the last 12 months, since I had the operation, because I have no pain in my hip anymore. I was in a lot of pain for a long time and the rehab has been slow, but it’s been going pretty well and I need to wait and see how things progress. But if it’s possible, I’d certainly love to compete again.”
That will cheer Tom and Phil Beahon, the twentysomething Liverpudlian brothers who founded Castore less than three years ago. More playing time for one of Britain’s greatest ever athletes means more visibility for a nascent manufacturer pitched as ‘the world’s first premium sportswear brand for men’.
This, though, is not an archetypal player endorsement deal. The extent of Murray’s involvement suggests plenty about his future plans and the trajectory from here of the Beahons’ vision. The financial terms of the partnership have not been released, although the Financial Times reports Murray’s fee at UK£8 million over eight years. What is officially known is that he has become a shareholder in the company and will take a seat on the board upon his retirement from tennis.
What is the Castore story?
After brief professional sporting careers – Tom in soccer and Phil in cricket – the Beahon brothers moved into finance, but knew fraternal collaboration was their ultimate aim.
“We always knew as brothers that we wanted to start a business together, and doing it in a sector that we had such a deep passion for made complete sense,” says Tom Beahon, speaking to SportsPro in a Queen’s Club café after the press conference.
“As we analysed the sportswear market, it’s so dominated by such a small clique of huge, global, mass market brands, and there was really no offering whatsoever for a more premium alternative. If you look at the automotive market, you’ve got the Aston Martins and the Ferraris; if you look at the watch market, there’s clearly premium alternatives to the main, mass market brands. In sportswear, that just doesn’t exist, and we found that very interesting.”
Since its 2016 launch, according to Tom Beahon, the brand has “very quickly” found customers who have been “happy to invest in higher-quality kit that was made from a unique, patented fabric with high-quality performance features”. Investors have shown an interest, too. A UK£3.2 million funding round in June 2018 brought in former Saatchi & Saatchi chief executive Robert Senior and Arnaud Massenet, an investor in online high fashion retailer Net-A-Porter.
We need something that’s ten per cent lighter than what you’ve currently got on stock and we need it to dry two per cent quicker
Former world number one Andy Murray sits Castore co-founder Tom Beahon at the Queen’s Club partnership announcement
Initially, at least, the Beahons have positioned Castore at the very top end of the market, with T-shirts and shorts selling from UK£75 and jackets going for as much as UK£395. At that price point, product quality and performance must be the points of difference from other brands.
The brothers insist that, unlike almost any other men’s sportswear manufacturers, Castore does not buy its materials “off the peg”, with all of it sourced from fabric mills in Italy and Switzerland.
“We’ve built a really strong partnership with [our suppliers] to say, ‘Guys, we need something that’s ten per cent lighter than what you’ve currently got on stock and we need it to dry two per cent quicker,’” says Phil Beahon. “Because of where we’re positioned as a brand, and our margins, we can do that.
“It allows us to spend a bit more on fabrics. Our fabrics, on average, cost five times more than an off the shelf fabric so it fits quite nicely into our brand positioning as well.”
The other core element of Castore’s approach at this stage is that it operates primarily as a “digital-first, direct-to-consumer brand”, which Tom Beahon sees as correspondent with wider retail trends.
How have Murray and Castore been brought together?
Murray made his debut in Castore’s kit during the 2019 Australian Open – a tournament many assumed would be his last
Andy Murray is a veteran of multi-million dollar endorsement deals with global players like Adidas and Under Armour. Given the scale of his achievements, his place among the celebrated ‘Big Four’ with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, and his enormous popularity in the UK, it is reasonable to assume that a brand like that would have happily signed him on lengthier terms. This deal, however, carries the promise of something different.
He was originally introduced to Castore through fitness coach Matt Little, and was impressed with the calibre of its products. In further conversations with the Beahons, he was struck by their commitment and the company’s sustainable approach, and enjoyed the parallels between the brothers’ sporting story and his own experiences growing up with sometime doubles partner Jamie.
More importantly, Murray was taken with the challenge and the opportunity their proposal represented.
“Normally, the brand-athlete partnerships are that you get paid to wear the kit on court and take some photos, and then at the end of that contract there’s a negotiation,” he says. “Whereas with this, it was something which is quite different for me. I’ll obviously have some equity in the business which is something that, even when I finish playing, I’m going to have a big involvement in as well.
“That’s something that as I start to get a bit older and start to realise there’s other things you have to look for and different interests as well as playing, and this is something which is really exciting.”
For Castore, the appeal is obvious: an incredibly young company has secured the endorsement of a man Tom Beahon considers to be Britain’s finest sportsperson of all time. The company plans to lean heavily on Murray’s technical feedback around its products and his sense of which rising stars to bring into its portfolio.
“A big part of us being excited about working with Andy is that through his network and knowledge of the sporting world, he’s helping us bring other young British athletes into the Castore brand,” says Tom Beahon. “It’s something that Andy is very passionate about himself.”
Normally, the brand-athlete partnerships are that you get paid to wear the kit and take some photos, and then at the end of that contract there’s a negotiation. With this, it was something which is quite different
What does this say about Murray’s post-tennis gameplan?
One thing that both Castore and Murray are stating firmly is that, however dire the prognosis appeared in Australia back in January, the career of the UK’s most successful living tennis player will continue.
“No one cares more about that than Andy himself and it is very much his hope and expectation that he’s back there as well,” says Tom Beahon. “The early stages of his rehabilitation have been incredibly positive so that’s great.
“However, when we started the discussion with Andy, from the outset it was always very much around a long-term vision. If Andy’s retirement is in three years, five years, two years, this is an eight-year partnership. It’s a long-term partnership that we knew would eventually transition from Andy as a player presenting the brand on court to taking a broader role in the business. So we’ve all gone into this with that intention from the outset.”
Murray is believed to hold a significant stake in Castore, one of a number of investments made with his post-playing days in mind
Murray is now believed to hold a significant stake in Castore. His late-career outlook has been focused on what he can contribute to up-and-coming enterprises once he steps away from the game. He has taken a leadership and mentorship role at Seventy Seven Management, which he set up with agent Matt Gentry, and which now looks after the interests of six young players.
He has also made investments in over 35 companies through the crowdfunding platform Seedrs. Back home, meanwhile, he has made a substantial commitment to his hometown community in Dunblane by backing the Cromlix Hotel.
SportsPro understands there could be a couple of arrangements similar to that with Castore in the pipeline for Murray over the months ahead. With a return to competitive action still his primary goal, however, the man himself remains coy about whether a template has been set.
“Obviously, I need to see what it is exactly that I want to do when I finish playing,” he says. “I have other interests as well – whether I’m able to give enough time to give to a variety of businesses if I wanted to go into coaching or commentary, all of these sorts of things. I need to decide that when I’ve finished playing but this is certainly something that, when it was initially discussed, was quite exciting for me. So I certainly wouldn’t rule out doing more in the future.”
Excited to announce that I have signed with @andy_murray ‘s 77 Sports Management. I’m really looking forward to the next chapter of my career working with the 77 team and having Andy as a mentor. Bring on the 2018 season, I can’t wait to get started �� pic.twitter.com/1AyJY0ncG0
— Katie Swan (@Katieswan99) January 4, 2018
What is next for Castore?
Whatever ambitions Castore holds for itself in the years ahead, it does not expect to sign another name of the calibre of Sir Andy Murray to similar terms any time soon.
“In terms of athletes involved with the brand of Castore, Andy absolutely will be the first of a number in the future,” says Tom Beahon. “In terms of the specific relationship with Andy, I think in all honesty there’s very few athletes in the world that warrant it, or have the visibility and the respect, the gravitas that Andy does.”
Nonetheless, there will be scope to use the profile of the Murray deal to progress some way beyond the brand’s current boutique status. There has already been interest from retailers in stocking Castore merchandise, with the Beahons approaching in-store distribution on a selective basis. A full tennis line will be rolled out in time for Wimbledon in June.
A smattering of marquee Castore outlets are also a strong possibility in “key cities” around the world, while Tom Beahon also expects the prospective customer base to be expanded in due course.
Castore is hoping to tap into the premium end of the sportswear market
“We will always be a product-centric brand based around innovation and creating the very best quality products in the world,” he suggests. “But in terms of remaining right at the top end of the market, that will gradually evolve as the brand evolves. We’re never going to go and compete directly with the mass market brands, but it is very much within the plan to evolve the pricing architecture of the brand and therefore appeal to a broader range of customers.”
While Tom and Phil Beahon believe they are breaking new ground in the men’s sportswear space, there are models they will be following that can give some idea of what to expect from the company’s development.
“You’ve got Rapha in the cycling market,” Tom adds. “That’s become a very successful international business built off a premium, product-centric positioning and a premium price point, direct to consumer. They’re a great benchmark for us.
“Lululemon on the female side have done a very good job and now measure revenue in the billions. If we can get Castore to that level, we’ll be very proud of ourselves.
“That’s where we’re looking to take Castore. It’s not about being a premium, boutique brand. We want to be a premium brand that competes on the global stage.”