Speedo wetsuits.

On July 16, some 4,000 athletes will plunge into the Hudson River for the start of the New York City Triathlon.

The race, now in its 17th year, has a new sponsor this time: Speedo. The swimwear brand signed on this spring to be the title sponsor of the Life Time Tri Series, a triathlon series from Life Time Fitness with events in Chicago and Miami as well as New York.

Speedo’s involvement marks the brand’s push into the lucrative triathlon market. Although the brand has dabbled in the sport over the years, the partnership with Life Time represents a more-serious investment.

“We haven’t really focused on it,” said Speedo USA president John Graham. “Although our goggles are ranked at the top among participants and we’ve always had product available, we had never been overt in our participation.”

But last year’s launch of Speedo Fit, a total body aquatic training program, changed all that. “It seemed like a natural extension,” Graham said. “We found that 77 percent of all triathletes are members of gyms, so the time is right to slowly start to reengage with the market.”

In addition to its goggles and a backpack designed for triathlon, Speedo is offering apparel and wet suits. The apparel ranges from one-piece suits to shorts and tri tanks that are rolling out this month to the brand’s web site as well as select retail partners such as Paragon Sporting Goods in New York.

“We’re letting the rope out slowly,” Graham said.

He said Speedo doesn’t expect the triathlon market to become “a significant commercial enterprise” for the brand, “but if it’s about water, we have a legacy there and will work to engage the consumer.”

That consumer is generally upscale. The average annual income is $126,000 and half the disposable income is spent online, Graham said, noting that he’s hoping for a sales boost for the triathlon product on the Speedo e-commerce site. 

Triathletes tend to be older, which Graham said fits with the brand’s demographic, but Speedo is also getting involved in triathlon festivals, which tend to attract younger people. “So that’s interesting to us as well,” he said.

On Sunday, all racers will receive a branded Speedo swim cap and the brand will have visible signage touting its sponsorship. “It’s a huge branding opportunity for us,” Graham said.

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