Marketing With Outdoor Athletes
While there was some research available on outdoor athletes specifically, data about sponsoring athletes in general was more plentiful and confirmed the hypothesis that partnering with outdoor athletes would be beneficial to a brand. Brands have seen real lifts in sales, as well as other benefits like access and guaranteed engagement with a receptive audience, product design contribution, and more. It's also a great way to humanize the brand. While there are definite risks in engaging in a partnership, there are also a host of best practices for brands that are looking to utilize this marketing avenue that can help mitigate those risks.
Partnerships can guide purchase
- Sponsorship in sports is worth more than $60 billion globally annually and growing, reflecting a belief that this is a lucrative market with high returns.
- According to Social Media Week, athlete endorsements can provide a 4% bump in sales and nearly a 0.25% increase in stock returns.
- When Good Life partnered with Lebron, they gained nearly 30 million dollars from a single campaign. And of course, the partnership between Michael Jordan and Nike is one of the most successful athlete-brand partnerships in history, starting in 1984. By 2009, Michael Jordan shoes still dominated 75% of basketball shoe sales and 10.8% of overall shoe sales in the US.
Partnerships grant access and guarantee engagement
- Because athletes already have a big base of highly engaged fans, a brand sponsorship can be a no-brainer in the sense that access is granted to this wide swathe of people. Engagement is also almost guaranteed as well, since most fans are highly passionate and involved with their idols. Last, they are reached in a favorable environment that they highly associate with good times and great memories.
- For example, Costa Sunglasses wanted to break into the women's segment, so they developed new more feminine frames while sponsoring 100 female pro anglers. They also funded an all-woman team that competed in the famous Los Sueños Billfish Tournament and produced a film called Slam that focused on female anglers. As a result, three years later women are the fastest-growing segment of Costa's sales and are 40% of sales. The "Waterwoman" style they launched is their top SKU by a four to one ratio.
- According to studies, Salomon has the same result with their snow sports and trail running categories. They now maintain a more gender-balanced roster including skier Jessie Diggins and trail runner Emelie Forsberg. Their branded video created to support their “Any Path. Your Way” push for their women's campaign got 3.4 million views, versus their usual 700,000 views and women's shoes are outselling men's at some retailers.
- Bose partnered with world-class athletes including Mikaela Shiffrin (US Alpine ski racer), an NFL quarterback, and an F1 racer. Results from the campaign showed 1.5m views on Instagram and 34,900 times Bose hashtags were used.
Partnerships allow the brand to personify brand attributes
- Partnering with an athlete can give a brand a way to bring their brand to life. Athlete personalities, goals and successes epitomize characteristics that a brand wants to own. For example, Kia stated that they partnered with Lebron because his reputation as "someone who plays aggressively, is dynamic and who has a sense of style" was exactly what Kia wanted to own.
- This doesn't have to stop when the athlete is not actively competing. Showing the power of their partnership, Under Armour is keeping Lindsey Vonn, top skier, on their roster even after her recent retirement. This shows that Under Armour still considers their partnership qualitatively and financially a sound investment even without her on the slopes.
- This is critical because brand strength contributes 60-80% of total sales. A powerful athlete partnership that can build up brand strength can therefore be a powerful motivator for purchase.
Partnerships often perform better than other marketing channels
- 89% of marketers say that influencer marketing (in this case, by athletes engaged in partnerships) is just as good or better than other marketing channels.
- 49% of consumers say that they depend on influencer recommendations for purchase decisions. 60% say that social influencers have inspired in-store purchases. Most contracts for partnerships with athletes require social media posts with the brand's products, so outdoor brands would benefit directly from these recommendations.
- According to one study, this is especially good for outdoor sports like surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding which have a lot of sponsorship potential. Snowboarding fans, for example, are twice as likely to use social media, which means great exposure for brands online.
- This trend towards relying on partnerships with athlete-influencers will only grow. Gen Z and Gen Alpha (the generation after Gen Z) say that they rely heavily on individual influencers rather than teams. Even now, Cristiano Ronaldo has the top number of followers on Instagram for sports- far more than any brand, sports event, or team.
- While some brands have tried to bypass sponsorship using guerilla tactics, research has shown that official sponsorships are more effective because of the sheer number of opportunities they have to be seen and associated with the athlete, as well as stronger ties qualitatively to the athlete.
Partnerships carry indirect benefits
- Partnering with athletes comes with other indirect benefits like meet-and-greets, hosting, or tickets to events that the athlete is participating in. These benefits are often overlooked but can often be repurposed within a company in order to cover the sponsorship costs, especially when used to impress other clients or as a networking opportunity.
- Another possibility is contribution to product design. For example, Black Diamond invites their pros to work on design with runner Hillary Gerardi helping create a hydration vest just for women. According to Tyler Willcutt, athlete manager for the brand, "A man is not going to design a women’s pack the way a woman could. And when Hillary invests in a product like this vest, other people can see that she loves it, and that’s authentic. It’s not a marketing setup."
Partnerships are not without risks...
- Brand partnerships with athletes are not without risk. Some of these risks include the potential for scandal and therefore negative publicity, the possibility for injury or loss, and even conditions beyond the athlete's control including the team overpowering the sponsor brand.
- These risks include monetary repercussions. One study showed that doping scandals negatively affected a sponsoring brand's stock price.
...And needs to be done correctly to be productive
- While there are clear benefits to creating relationships between marketers and athletes, the success of the partnership depends on whether the venture fulfills a few requirements. According to McKinsey, success is first based on whether the brand has identified the metrics of success to begin with. Some examples of steps that a brand would have to consider before partnership would be the overall objective, the target demographic, which stages of the consumer decision journey sponsorships can support, and how ROI will be measured.
- Other considerations include factors beyond the athlete's control. For example, the cost per reach per material/event may be different and budget may need to be allocated differently in order to increase reach and therefore effectiveness with the same cost.