Donnay Sports is a sports equipment brand currently owned by Frasers Group.[3] The company was founded in 1910 by Emile Donnay and was based in Couvin, Belgium. Donnay manufactured wooden tennis rackets from 1934, and by the 1970s was the largest manufacturer of tennis rackets in the world. However, the company failed to adapt to the new market for graphite rackets, and entered administration in 1988. After a succession of owners, the brand was eventually sold to Sports Direct International, who continue to license the use of the brand worldwide.

Donnay Sports
Company typePrivate (1910–88)
IndustrySports equipment
FounderEmile Donnay
Defunct1988; 36 years ago (1988)
FateDeclared bankruptcy in 1988,[1] acquired and becoming a brand[1]
Area served
ProductsTennis rackets
OwnerFrasers Group (1996–present) [2]

Nowadays Donnay commercialises tennis rackets, strings and bags. Donnay rackets were used professionally in Europe by Björn Borg from 1975 until his retirement in 1983. Other professionals included Andre Agassi, Rod Laver and Greg Rusedski.



The company was founded in 1910 by Emile Donnay (1885–1972) as a wooden tool handle manufacturing co-operative with six employees.[1] Emile Donnay had little education and a modest background.[4] The company began to diversify into other wooden products, including a bow for archers, which continues to be reflected in the Donnay bow-shaped logo.[5] In 1924 Donnay built premises in Couvin.[6]

The company manufactured its first tennis rackets in 1934.[7] In the early 1950s the company won a valuable contract to produce tennis rackets for Wilson.[8]

By 1969 Donnay was the world's largest manufacturer of tennis rackets. By the early 1970s, Donnay was producing 2 million rackets a year, 1.3 million of which were shipped to Wilson for distribution.[8] Production suffered in 1973, when Wilson relocated its tennis racket production to Taiwan.[8]

Björn Borg using a Donnay racket in the final of the 1979 ABN Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam

In 1981 Donnay produced 1.8 million rackets, almost all made from ash.[9] The company failed to adapt to the changing market for the new lightweight graphite rackets.[8] The company produced only 3,000 graphite rackets in 1980, instead concentrating on wood and aluminium rackets.[8] The company continued to manufacture wooden rackets until 1984, by which time they were obsolete.[10]

Buoyed by the success of signing up Björn Borg as a Donnay user, the company employed 600 people and manufactured around 1.5 million tennis rackets a year.[1] In 1981 Donnay reported a turnover of 2.1 billion Belgian francs. Donnay's fortunes began to fade when Borg retired in 1983.[8] Its success had been too closely aligned with Borg's success, and the company lost money for four years before entering administration in 1988 after amassing debts of $35 million.[8][11] The company had apparently lacked the negotiation skills to attract another player of Borg's standing as a figurehead.[1]

The Donnay family still controlled 55 percent of the company when it went bankrupt in 1988.[1] The Walloon and Belgian governments held the remaining shares.[1] The company was acquired by a group of investors, led by Bernard Tapie with a 51 percent stake, the Walloon government with 29 percent and Albert Frère with 20 percent.[11] In 1991 Tapie sold his 58 percent stake in the company to the Walloon government for $16.2 million in order to finance the acquisition of Adidas shares.[12] The government sold the factory to an Italian sports equipment manufacturer, Carbon Valley, and retained the brand rights.[12] In December 1992 the Walloon government took ownership of the company in order to prevent it from entering administration again.[13]

In 1996, Sports Direct International acquired the worldwide rights to the Donnay brand from the Walloon government for $3.9 million.[2] At the time of the acquisition, production was based in Portugal, while 23 people remained employed at a distribution centre in Couvin.[2] SportsDirect sells Donnay products as an in house brand and licences its production of Donnay branded products overseas.[14] SportsDirect also separately licenses the brand to independent manufacturers and sellers of Donnay branded products, including tennis racquet production in the United States.[15]



Initially, Donnay sponsored Belgian tennis players, and due to the amateur nature of the sport at the time, was only allowed to provide rackets and balls, and a small fee.[5] Its first foreign sponsorship was with the French tennis player Yvon Petra.[5] Rod Laver, Margaret Court and Cliff Drysdale all played with Donnay rackets.[6]

Donnay sponsored Björn Borg from 1975 to 1983, providing his racket.[1][16] When Borg renewed the contract in 1979, it was worth $600,000 a year, plus royalties from Borg branded Donnay rackets.[17]

Andre Agassi was signed to the Donnay brand between 1989 and 1992 for around $1 million a year.[18] Henri Leconte and Greg Rusedski also used Donnay rackets.[19]

Further reading

  • Michel Guilluy and Louis Maraite: Donnay, la légende d'une marque de tennis 1910 - 2013 (2013)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Casert, Raf (August 11, 1988). "Racket Company Faces Bankruptcy After 'Borg Effect' Fizzles". The Associated Press.
  2. ^ a b c "Donnay, Famous for its Wooden Rackets, Sold To British Company". Associated Press International. 3 December 1996.
  3. ^ Donnay on Sports Direct Int, 16 Aug 2020
  4. ^ L’info sur – L’actu 24h/24, 7 jours sur 7 - Page de redirection
  5. ^ a b c Exclusif: quelques bonnes feuilles du livre “Donnay, la Légende” | amortie et lob
  6. ^ a b "Under konstruktion" (PDF).
  7. ^ Donnay, la légende: en vente uniquement sur |
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Michael White (2009). A Short Course in International Marketing Blunders: Mistakes Made by Companies that Should Have Known Better. World Trade Press. p. 151. ISBN 978-1-60780-008-8.
  9. ^ Donnay, la légende d’une marque -
  10. ^ Si Donnay m’était conté…. Montrez votre intérêt et un livre paraîtra | amortie et lob
  11. ^ a b Montgomery, Paul (22 September 1988). "A Former Singer Becomes Largest Owner of Donnay". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  12. ^ a b "Tapie Is Selling Stake in Donnay". The New York Times. Reuters. 28 June 1991. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  14. ^ Sports World International sales climb 45pc and knock JJB off top spot – Telegraph
  15. ^ Xenecoretennis
  16. ^ - Donnay Offers Money-Back Guarantee During French
  17. ^ Borg et Agassi à l’origine du mythe -
  18. ^ McCabe, Nora (18 March 1989). "Hetherington loses a doubles partner". Globe and Mail. Canada.
  19. ^ L’info sur – L’actu 24h/24, 7 jours sur 7 - Page de redirection