August 5, 2010 marks the official 40th anniversary of a true sporting goods brand and one of the most recognized, trusted names in tennis, Prince.
In 1970, working in his Princeton, New Jersey, garage, inventor and entrepreneur Bob McClure reversed the motor on a household vacuum cleaner to produce the first commercially viable tennis ball machine. He called the machine the "Little Prince" and a true tennis brand was born. Today, forty years on, the company operates worldwide and celebrates a prolific history of providing some of the most important game-changing equipment advances to help all players play better, while supporting some of the most exciting athletes and grassroots programs.
Prince hit the world scene in the mid-1970's when legendary engineer, Howard Head (who also invented the first metal alpine ski), using McClure's ball machine to work on his tennis game, realized he could develop a racquet that would help him significantly raise his level of play and hit better shots, more often. Head patented the first "Oversize" tennis racquet in 1976 with a 110 square inch head, called it "The Prince," and in doing so, ushered in a major tennis 'boom' by making tennis easier to play and more fun for millions of people. Head later bought the company from McClure, leveraged his innovative tennis racquet and grew the brand exponentially with a strong focus on performance tennis racquets - a focus that remains today.
"I remember when I first saw that new racquet in the mid to late seventies, I thought, what in the world is that? It looked completely different to the small, heavy wooden frames of the day, but it was helping all of these people play better tennis," said legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, Founder and President of the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida and long-time Prince supporter. "I remember young kids traveling all around in cars and vans to let players at private clubs, public courts, tournaments - wherever there was a tennis player - test out these new frames. And boy did it catch on! Pretty soon, you could not throw a stone near a tennis court without hitting someone using a Prince racquet. Our academy is proud to be affiliated with Prince products and we look forward to forty more years of their moving the game forward."
Not only did recreational players take notice, but the world's most elite players began to adopt the brand and its technology. From its first brand ambassadors like Pam Shriver, Gene Mayer, Jimmy Arias and Pat Cash, to later superstars like, Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova, Gabriela Sabatini, Michael Chang, Monica Seles, Andre Agassi, Jennifer Capriati, and Patrick Rafter, to today's athletes like Maria Sharapova, John Isner, Gael Monfils, Sam Querrey, David Ferrer, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Mike and Bob Bryan, Prince has continued to be the brand of choice for the game's most discerning athletes.
"I was one of the first players to play with Prince on tour," said Pam Shriver, former top-ranked touring pro and current ESPN tennis analyst. "We were sort of this group of pioneers, but as soon as other players saw what we could do with the ball, how the racquets were helping our game, and the quality of the products being produced, they were not far behind. As a sixteen-year-old, I reached the finals of the 1978 U.S. Open after switching to a Prince racquet and without question it helped bring the brand into the tennis mainstream. Soon, it was as if there were "P" stencils everywhere. Prince is a truly authentic tennis brand – one that is actually much younger than all of its competitors – which makes the contributions it has made to this sport, in what is essentially a short period of time, even more impressive."
Andre Agassi, wrote about his love for his Prince Graphite racquet and his hesitation in having to switch to another racquet brand in his autobiography Open. More recently, an American newcomer, John Isner captured the public's attention after using his Prince racquets to win the epic marathon match at this year's Wimbledon and Mike while Bob Bryan just set the all-time ATP doubles titles record at sixty-two wielding Prince frames. The brand continues to touch the lives of players worldwide.
Prince is the only major U.S.-owned and headquartered tennis manufacturer located just south of Princeton, New Jersey - approximately thirty miles from the site of Bob McClure's garage. Today, the company is again privately owned, having at one time been part of both the Benetton Group of Companies as well as Chesebrough-Ponds, Inc. It has offices in England, Taiwan, France and China, maintains its industry-leading research and development facility outside Venice, Italy, and has distributor presence in more than 100 countries.
"At the end of the day, we strive to continue the mission set forth by Mr. McClure and Mr. Head – to help all player types, whether recreational or those competing at the game's highest levels, hit more great shots, more often," said Zach Perles, Vice President of Global Communications at Prince Sports, Inc. "We will continue to bring to market best-in-class products that help raise people's level of play and support them with meaningful grassroots programs and industry partnerships designed to grow the game overall. We are an integral part of the fabric of this sport, proud of our past products, programs and players, but even more energized about our plans for the future. "
Game-changing innovation did not stop with the invention of Howard Head's first "Oversize" racquet. Through the years, Prince has brought to market multiple revolutionary equipment products including inventing the first "longbody" racquet, introducing the Prince Original Graphite, offering the first "Natural Foot Shape" tennis shoe, and creating the first "multifilament" string.
Most recently, in 2005, the company debuted another revolutionary breakthrough in product design with the introduction of O-Technology in racquets. Eliminating restrictive grommet holes in the frame, this engineering feat used large holes and suspended the string bed facilitating more string movement for an enhanced sweet spot. Maria Sharapova won her U.S. Open (and subsequently her first Australian Open) using this new technology, and today there are nearly 100 players on tour who have switched to this racquet design innovation.
"We are extremely proud of the work being done in our R&D innovation center and what it means for current and future generations of tennis players," said Roberto Gazzara, Vice President of Research and Development for Prince Sports, Inc. "The facilities here in Italy are developing breakthrough enhancements to products in all categories, every day. I truly believe we have the best team in the industry and will remain at the forefront of impactful, visible, proven developments designed to raise level of play and move the game forward."
In fact, O-Technology was so well-regarded by the sporting goods industry that Prince was approached to license and export the design to other top sporting goods brands such as Reebok, Grays and Hoyt for products such as baseball bats, archery equipment and lacrosse, field hockey and ice hockey sticks. This new technology is now not only being played by athletes on tennis' biggest Grand Slam stages, but in the Olympics, Stanley Cup Playoffs and College World Series as well.
The next generation of top players choosing Prince looks equally strong. Today, in the United States, the company boasts nineteen junior players who are in the top fifteen in the nation in their respective age group, with five of these players in the top five. In Europe, one of the most important tennis markets in the world, the Company boasts forty #1 ranked boys their respective country (age group 12 to 18 years old) and thirty-eight #1 ranked girls in their country (age group 12 to 18 years old).
Additionally, the #1 ranked ITF junior boy in the world today, also chooses to play with Prince.
"The history this company has and the players who have played Prince before me are awesome and I am proud to be part of Prince's history and future," said 17-year-old Australian Jason Kubler, who is the current #1 ITF ranked junior boy in the world. "We are all a small part of the tradition and history of this brand and it really feels like being part of a team. I know the team at Prince knows how to produce champions and create products that help players raise their level of play and that is a good feeling to have as a young player."
1970 – Bob McClure invents the first commercially viable ball machine by reversing the motor on a vacuum cleaner. The "Little Prince" is introduced and Prince Sports, Inc. is formed.
1976 –Howard Head engineers and patents the first "Prince" racquet – an "Oversize" frame at 110 square inches designed to deliver the largest sweet spot. It revolutionizes the game.
1977 – Prince introduces the original Graphite, which becomes the first "top players" racquet and the standard by which all others are compared.
1978 – Prince invents the first multi-filament tennis string, which becomes an industry top seller that same year.
1985 – Seeing the need to go beyond the all-purpose shoe, Prince introduces the TPU-4000, a lightweight and durable shoe made specifically for tennis players.
1995 - Prince is the first company to introduce 'Longbody' technology, which launches Michael Chang to #2 in the world. His frame becomes the best-selling racquet in tennis.
2005 – Prince re-invents racquet design with introduction of O-Technology, which transforms traditional grommets into large holes. The technology platform is soon exported to brands in other sports. Maria Sharapova wins the 2006 U.S. Open with the Prince O3 White (which features O-technology). The racquet becomes the best selling model in the United States.
2009 – Building off the O-Tech platform, Prince introduces EXO3 racquet technology, which suspends the string bed for ultimate string movement resulting in a larger sweet spot. The technology is played at the games highest levels.
The full 2010 product line, current athlete roster, retail locations and other multimedia offerings can be found at www.princetennis.com. The company also brings players, coaches and fans together on its official Facebook fan page, www.facebook.com/official.prince.tennis.
Prince Sports, Inc, based in New Jersey, is a company of racquet sports enthusiasts whose goal is to create cutting edge, functional and technically advanced products that deliver performance benefits for avid players.? Prince markets leading technologies in racquets (EXO3), string (Premier LT), footwear (LightSpeed) and apparel (Aerotech).? For more information on players, products or programs please visit www.princesports.com.