GOING ACTIVE ON A TWO-WAY TRACK
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — In the business of sports, one name is not enough.
Activewear makers are beginning to join forces with other firms — especially those in other categories — to cross-promote their brands.
In this multimedia age, it has become increasingly challenging to develop eye-catching promotions that appeal to today’s savvy teenagers, manufacturers said. Given that, such firms as Vans and Happy Girl are sponsoring concerts for independent bands, alternative sports’ competitions and even raves — underground parties for club kids — to turn up the volume on their brands.
On another track, more mainstream companies are taking a more traditional route. Manufacturers such as Russell Athletic and Adidas America are teaming up with other companies to plug athletic events.
As the leader in the industry, Nike, not surprisingly, is redefining cross-promotions. Last year the company established a sports and entertainment division, which organizes competitions for athletes or teams that endorse Nike. There is also a pool of commentators lined up to host such events. Last week, for example, Ahmad Rashad hosted the launch of the Michael Jordan brand at NikeTown here.
Vans, a Santa Fe Springs, Calif., manufacturer that focuses on alternative sports, relies on grass-roots cross-promotions to reach its young consumers.
With interest in alternative sports increasing — predominantly among teenagers — more corporations are approaching Vans about cross-promotions, said Jay Wilson, director of marketing. Each month Vans receive 20 inquiries from other corporations, he said.
“Things have dried up. Kids have left the malls and they’re shopping at skateboard and snowboard shops,” Wilson said. “Now corporate America realizes that not being involved [in these sports] is detrimental to their businesses.”
Turning a profit, however, should not be the motive for cross-promotions, because teenagers will balk at the overly commercial approach, he said. Building participation in a sport, raising money for a charity and increasing brand awareness are the primary reasons Vans focuses on cross-promotions, Wilson said.
Earlier this month, Vans bought the rights to the Triple Crown of Surfing, which features three competitions. G Shock, Ocean Pacific, Rip Curl, Coca-Cola and Hilton endorse various components of the tour, Wilson said.
“Our business is a little different. We’re competitive, but we’re bro- competitive,” he said. “There are core people in this growing industry. We don’t look at them as competitors.”
In the past year, Vans has seen attendance double for the Vans/Hard Rock Cafe Triple Crown of Skateboarding and Vans World Snowboarding Championship, a competition that Ocean Pacific, Rip Curl and Swatch also support, Wilson noted.
This year, a total of 580,000 people — twice as many as last year — are expected to turn out for the Vans Warped Tour, a 30-city concert tour that features 60 bands, he said. Creative Artist Agency, Kevin Lyman Productions and a Southern California law firm also sponsor the event.
Happy Girl, a division of Rise Above Clothing based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., is working to co-sponsor raves, concerts for independent bands and skateboard, snowboard and wakeboard demonstrations with other firms, said Eric Boyd, co-owner and partner. By teaming up, companies have access to athletes, events and ideas they might not be privy to on their own, he said.
That, in turn, often enables them to gain feedback from their customers.
“Being at these events, we get a lot of credible feedback,” Boyd said. “We cut marketing and advertising based on the response we get there, instead of what you come up with when you’ve been stuck in the office for too long.”
Cross-promoting is an effective strategy to capture the younger market, which is always “looking for something that hasn’t been done before,” he said. It presents a less commercialized brand image — a weighing factor with teenagers, Boyd added.
“You don’t want to portray yourself as too big — that way you get their respect,” he said.
For the first time, Happy Girl is now suiting up professional female skateboarders who endorse the brand with footwear from Simple, a Santa Barbara firm. There is no formal agreement between the two companies, but professional athletes are wearing both brands for competition, advertising and special events, Boyd said.
The strategy should help this year’s sales exceed $500,000 — a 50 percent increase compared to 1996, he added.
Russell Athletic, an Alexander City, Ala., activewear maker, is evaluating the response to a three-day co-ed softball tournament the company sponsored in April with two other Alabama-based companies, Louisville Slugger and Hibbett Sports, a family-owned sporting goods chain.
Each day, more than 2,000 people turned out to watch 60 teams compete, said T.C. Coley, advertising, promotions and public relations coordinator for Russell.
A fashion show featuring Russell activewear kept spectators entertained between innings. And about $5,000 worth of Louisville and Russell merchandise was sold at an on-site store, during the event.
There was so much interest in this year’s Adidas Summer League, a month-long soccer program for adults, that the company plans to offer secondary sponsorships to other companies. That wasn’t part of the company’s initial plan, said Susie Nichols, women’s business manager.
Designed to keep top-ranking college and post-graduate players competitive, the league attracted 60 women this year and that figure should climb to 100 in 1998. Nichols attributed the interest in the event to the fact that there aren’t similar programs in the U.S.
Volkswagen, MCI, Taco Bell and McDonald’s are among the firms Trek USA, the Waterloo, Wisc., bicycle and activewear maker, teams up with for cross-promotions. The company routinely donates bicycles for sweepstakes that require winners to visit local Trek dealers to pick up prizes.
For 1997, Trek should receive about 300 requests for cross-promotions, said Jackson Lynch, director of corporate communications.
“The best thing about these deals is they raise the level of awareness of both brands,” he said. “It’s definitely a quality issue more than a quantity issue.”
Trek is busy considering partners in other industries, Lynch said. During Labor Day weekend, Trek worked with A&M Records for the first time by tying in to the band Orbit’s tour.
Meanwhile, other agencies are considering new deals.
The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association plans to explore the potential of cross-promoting its Active & Ageless program, which plays up the importance of physical exercise for adults 50 or older.
In the next month, Maria Stefan, executive director of the SGMA, will host a roundtable in Turnberry Isle, Fla., for 10 executives from beauty, finance, entertainment, health care and other industries.
“We need to look at the mature consumer. We need to cross-promote that consumer as active and independent instead of dependent and diseased,” said Stefan, who has been asked by the World Health Organization to develop a model for other countries to modify Active & Ageless for their respective countries.
Eddie Bauer, which first partnered with Ford Motors 12 years ago to market sports utility vehicles, is negotiating potential deals with other nonapparel companies. Eddie Bauer is pursuing such fields as sports and entertainment, said Lisa Bayne, vice president of creative direction.
Cross-promotions should convey Eddie Bauer’s casual, outdoor lifestyle as well as the company’s standards for integrity and value, she emphasized.