Basketball, soccer, baseball — in recent years, Rakuten’s passion for sports has made itself known around the world. In Japan, Rakuten’s reputation extends into the world of tennis, with its title sponsorship of the Rakuten Japan Open — part of the ATP World Tour 500 Series and Japan’s biggest men’s tennis tournament.

But Rakuten’s tennis rep is about to go worldwide, with today’s announcement that Rakuten will become the Global Innovation and Entertainment Partner and Global Presenting Partner for the sport’s largest annual international team competition, the Davis Cup.

The Croatian team holding up the Davis Cup after winning the tournament in 2018.
The Croatian team holding up the Davis Cup after winning the tournament in 2018.

119 years of the Davis Cup

The Davis Cup is one of the longest running tennis events on the planet, with roots in late 19th-century U.S. when the best American tennis players faced off against their British counterparts. The first official Davis Cup was held in 1900 between Britain and the U.S., who were joined by teams from other countries in the years following.

The format of the Davis Cup has changed several times over its 119-year history, but one key element has remained the same: Unlike many other modern tennis tournaments, Davis Cup participants play in teams representing their country, rather than by themselves, leading many to dub the event the “World Cup of Tennis.”

A fresh start for 2019

Over one November week in Madrid, 18 countries will compete in the Davis Cup Finals — 12 winners of the February qualifiers alongside four semi-finalists from 2018 and two wild card teams. The teams will battle through a group stage and a knockout round to crown the Davis Cup World Champions.

This format further establishes the Cup’s reputation as the “World Cup of Tennis.” The timing of the event is also designed to make it more attractive and accessible to the tour’s top tennis talent by working with the schedule of the professional tennis season.

New partners, new innovation

Rakuten has been named Global Presenting and Global Innovation and Entertainment Partner, and the event itself has been officially renamed to the Davis Cup by Rakuten. The initial partnership will last through 2020 (with an option for a two-year extension) and Rakuten will be featured prominently throughout the Finals and Qualifiers.

As the Cup’s global “innovation and entertainment partner,” Rakuten will utilize its extensive expertise in online businesses such as e-commerce and membership programs to help enhance the fan experience. Also in the works are plans to utilize the Rakuten Viber platform to engage directly with fans online.

“The Davis Cup has always been about maintaining tradition while embracing innovation,” said International Tennis Federation President David Haggerty. “Adopting new technologies for the Davis Cup is allowing us to enter exciting new partnerships, and we look forward to working with Rakuten to reach a global audience in new and diverse ways.”

The power of sport

In April, Rakuten was awarded the Grand Prize of the Japan Sports Business Award (article in Japanese) for its work in bringing some of the world’s top footballing talent (e.g. Lukas Podolski, Andres Iniesta, David Villa) to Japan and boosting the profile of the local J.League.

Rakuten’s passion for sport and its ability to empower local communities has been sparked by Chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani, whose sport of choice in school was — you guessed it — tennis.

“My passion for playing competitive tennis as a young man had a big impact on my approach to business,” Mikitani explained in a recent Q&A session with his LinkedIn community. “It was inside my university tennis club that I began to see the value of testing rules and reinventing new ways to be successful.”

Mikitani has high hopes for the new Davis Cup partnership: “We are firm believers in the power of sport to bring people and communities together, and to inspire optimism and innovation.”

The Davis Cup Madrid Finals will be held from November 18 to 24, with tickets on sale via the official Davis Cup website.