The luxury watch brand has a long history in sports, from British swimmer Mercedes Gleitz, up through contemporary icons like Roger Federer and Lindsey Vonn.
Rolex touts its commitment to prestige, and it puts its money where its mouth is. The luxury watch brand’s name can be found at some of the biggest tournaments in the world and attached to some of the most influential stars in sports. Its ties to sport pre-dates its most well-known partnerships, and the run deserves to be well-documented.
As the legend goes, Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf sought to design wrist watches that could resist the elements and ultimately replace pocket watches. Naturally, he turned to athletics — in the form of typist Mercedes Gleitz — to promote the watch. Gleitz would become the first British woman to swim the English Channel and wear the watch in the process. The watch held up in the cold water, and so did the commitment to showcasing the watch in the world of sports.
In the years that followed, the company attached itself to motor sports, climbing, equestrianism, golf and tennis. Let’s take a look at what — and who — Rolex has invested in over the years to promote its watch.
Make no mistake: Rolex’s greatest venture into the world of sports is tennis. The sport is given extra space on Rolex’s website and Roger Federer is the first athlete on its page of endorsers. Even though its support for tennis began in the 1970s, it’s grown into Rolex’s largest sport.
Federer partnered with the watch brand in 2006, signing a 10-year, $15 million deal, which was one of the largest endorsement deals in sports at the time, netting him $1.5 million annually. When that contract was renewed in 2016, his annual deal to endorse Rolex watches grew to an estimated $8 million per year. Seeing Federer lift trophies in his Oyster Perpetual Datejust II has become a routine for most tennis fans, as he’s done it 73 times since the start of the 2006 season.
Just doing some quick math, that means Rolex has paid roughly $753,000 per trophy-lift since 2006, if we’re to believe the rumored numbers. That’s actually quite the bargain for the man billed the Greatest of All-Time.
Rolex’s relationship extends far beyond Federer. In addition to partnering with present-day stars such as Garbine Muguruza, Angelique Kerber, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, it boasts legends like Rod Laver and Chris Evert as watch ambassadors.
The brand’s name is also found on the match clock at every major tennis event and is the Official Timekeeper of three of the four Grand Slams. It partnered with Wimbledon back in 1978, the US Open in 2018, and became the Official Watch and Official Timekeeper of the French Open in 2019. Though Rolex returned as the official timekeeper of the Australian Open in 2021, there’s not yet been word on a renewal for this year.
Their name can be also found in front of three Masters 1000 tournaments — the Rolex Shanghai Masters, the Rolex Paris Masters and the Rolex Monte-Carlo masters. And Rolex is frequently a presenting sponsor of the player challenge system on the ATP and WTA tours.
Rolex began its exploration into the golf space in 1967, when it inked Arnold Palmer to an endorsement deal. In the years following, it would go on to sign Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to create a hold on the sport’s biggest stars.
In 1997, the watch company signed Tiger Woods to a five-year, $7 million deal. After he had signed on with Tag Heuer, Woods re-joined Rolex in 2011 as he began his comeback. Rolex was able to capitalize on Woods’ monumental Masters win in 2019, though it doesn’t appear he currently has a deal. He still appears on the Rolex website, however, and the signing was a big one in the company’s history with golf.
Rolex has been the official timekeeper of the British Open for more than 40 years, and of the U.S. Open since 1980. It has also been partners with the U.S. Women’s Open since 2003 and the Senior British Open since 2017.
The brand also inked a deal to be a presenting partner of the Ryder Cup standings and sponsors a host of young stars like Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson.
Current Rolex Ambassadors
Tennis: Roger Federer, Garbine Muguruza, Angelique Kerber, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Belinda Bencic, Caroline Wozniacki, Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert, Ana Ivanovic
Golf: Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Annika Sorenstam, Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson, Brooke Henderson, Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Anna Nordqvist, Thomas Pieters, Joaquin Niemann, Matthew Wolff, Cameron Champ
F1: Nico Rosberg, Mark Webber, Tom Kristensen, Sir Jackie Stewart
Other sports: Lindsey Vonn, Steve Guerdat