Sunbaba is a company which specialises in event-branding. Jan Booth says many of the visual ideas that are used to great effect in other industries could easily be applied to tennis
Booth, CEO and co-founder of event-branding specialists Sunbaba, has a vision. “I am passionate about the way things could move forward in tennis,” she says.
Jan and her husband Trevor founded Sunbaba Systems 29 years ago. The company, which has offices in Newmarket and London, started life in the agricultural sector, which was where Trevor worked. The couple spotted an opportunity to supply netting for agricultural products for BP.
After years of re-invention and business foresight, Sunbaba now employs about 10 people. The company provides branding for events as diverse as television’s Strictly Come Dancing tour and the AEGON International tennis tournament at Devonshire Park in Eastbourne (Sunbaba provide the material covering the dance floor in the former and the image that spectators see hanging from one of the stands at the latter).
Sunbaba’s website gives a great insight into what the company does. The show reel demonstrates how netting and rigid substrates and PVC can be used to create colour and noise in both ordinary and extraordinary places.
Jan (right) says her favourite project was probably at Battersea Power Station. Sunbaba collaborated with a production team and a staging company to project video and images on Austronet on to the iconic London landmark. Sunbaba won an award for the partnership.
Producing the printed fabric that dresses one of the stands at the AEGON International is another project that has brought a smile to Jan’s face, along with the occasional frown. For the last seven years Sunbaba have worked with the tournament director, Gavin Fletcher, and his team to produce the 34m x 10m PVC mesh that can be found on the main show court.
Projects like these are not without their challenges, as Jan points out. A few centimetres difference in a specification of the structure which is to be branded can make a big difference to the material the company produces and can have a dramatic effect on the appearance of the final product. “We are perfectionists in what we do,” she said. “We want it done spot-on.”
The project at Eastbourne starts with a site visit for all the contractors. Drawings are then made for the specification. The Ultramesh material that is used for the graphic measures 34m x 10m and can be made in five to seven days. It is then erected by a team of riggers who are also tasked with taking it down at the end of the week.
Sunbaba’s customer base covers a variety of market sectors, including tennis. Windbreaks around courts are an obvious application of the company’s work, but Booth thinks there are many more ways in which clubs and tennis communities could enliven their spaces to highlight open days, tournaments and social events, whether inside a clubhouse or outside on court.
Windbreaks take up to 15 working days to deliver once ordered. Sunbaba provide the whole service from design through to delivery of the finished product. As Jan explained, you don't have to be a designer to use their service. “You could scribble the idea on paper, do a rough sketch and send it by e-mail,” she said.
Designs that take around half an hour are incorporated into the cost, with anything longer incurring a charge. However, Jan says that in her experience many tennis clubs are able to find an obliging graphic designer from among their membership.
Screen-printed items take 15 working, days but digital printing used for banners and PVC messaging takes only five. Sunbaba unsurprisingly have their busiest period from April to September. Any clubs interested in planning and preparing branding in the winter months would find the company less busy at that time.
Jan says that tennis clubs in Europe tend to be much more open in their thinking about branding and marketing. She believes that one way to spread the cost of branding is to sell advertising, something again that European clubs tend to do better than their British counterparts.
Despite the current health and safety legislation and the fact that many tennis clubs are sited on land owned by local councils - and are therefore subject to restrictions on advertising – Jan says clubs could do more to make themselves look more colourful and inviting.
Projecting a graphic on to the side of your local clubhouse might seem a little extreme, but Jan thinks that moving away from “green and white and black” could be just the thing to liven up tennis – which is something she would love to see happen.
Jan has her own Twitter handle, @SunbabaAuntieJ. “I became everybody’s go to lady,” she explained, and is fondly called Auntie Jan by many of the clients she has helped.