SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Marketingsponsorship

Consumer brands target action sports athletes

Recent endorsement deals between action sports athletes and consumer companies prove that non-endemic brands are getting very interested in attaching their brands to athletes of sports like snowboarding, motocross and others.

The deals have pushed a handful of younger athletes, such as motocross star Chad Reed, into or near the eight-figures-a-year range of endorsement income — territory once reserved for Tony Hawk — according to several marketers.

Traditional sports marketer Snickers recently announced its sponsorship of The Collection, four Octagon-repped snowboarders (a number that’s likely to grow, including non-Octagon athletes). Music service Napster has sponsored the six-racer Amsoil/Chaparall/Honda moto/supermotocross team, and it expects to add another six athletes from various sports to “Team Napster.”

Energy drink Red Bull has taken its place among Travis Pastrana’s endemic sponsors.
The following lists 10 top action sports athletes with a list of their non-endemic endorsement deals. Those deals signed since January 2004 are in bold, where that information was available. (Sport; agency handling endorsements in parentheses.) All information provided by respective agencies.
Tony Hawk (retired, skateboard; William Morris): Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, McDonald’s, Video Now, Birthday Express, Fox Sports Net/Fuel, Sirius, Activision
Chad Reed (motocross; WMG Management): Slim Jim, Amp’d Mobile
Marc Frank Montoya (snowboard; WMG Management): Napster, ZooYork, Monster Energy Drink, Kicker Audio, Block Hotels
Bucky Lasek (skateboard; WMG Management): T-Mobile, Campbell’s Soup at Hand, Meguiars, Jones Soda
Travis Pastrana (freestyle motocross; WMG Management): Red Bull, Kicker Audio, Ogio
Shaun White (skateboard, snowboard; IMG) T-Mobile, Mountain Dew, PlayStation, Target
Ross Powers (snowboard; Octagon): Snickers, Lego
Chris Klug (snowboard; Octagon): Saturn/GM, Fujisawa (pharmaceuticals), Fiji Water, Gift of Life Foundation
Gretchen Bleiler (snowboard; Octagon): Jeep, Napster, T-Mobile, 24-Hour Fitness
Kelly Clark (snowboard; Octagon): Snickers, Stoneyfield Farms (organic milk products)
Look at the accompanying chart of 10 action athletes, and you will see a wide array of what the action world calls “corporate companies” — consumer brands that market goods or services not directly related to the sports those athletes compete in. These companies range from the niche (Amp’d Mobile) to the all-American (McDonald’s), and most of them have signed on since the beginning of 2004, sometimes more than doubling the athletes’ rosters of non-endemic partners.

“There doesn’t seem to be any doubt that non-endemic brand sponsorship of action athletes is trending up,” said Bill Carter, co-founder of Fuse Marketing, which consults companies on their action involvements. Some of it is the expansion of athlete programs from longtime action sponsors like Mountain Dew or Slim Jim, but Carter still sees the industry reaching a new phase.

“The athlete sponsorship piece is rarely the starting point for a brand in action sports,” he said. “We’re seeing that event or property sponsorship is still the primary means by which a brand will utilize action, and the athlete piece is a means to extend or broaden the whole platform.”

Napster, for example, soon expects to add event sponsorship to its portfolio of action involvements, which are overseen by the Wasserman Media Group. And it is in serious discussions on cross-promotion with other kinds of consumer brands in the action world, according to Brad Duea, Napster CEO.

Meanwhile, it’s promoting its moto/supermotocross deal in many ways, including with trading cards that include athletes’ three favorite songs and a code for a free song download from

There are exceptions to Carter’s theory, such as snowboarder Chris Klug, who was a Saturn endorser before Saturn became presenter of the Gravity Games. Either way, the trend indicates growing leverage among the athletes.

“It’s the natural evolution of any sport, and we’re just a little bit behind,” said Circe Wallace-Hetzel, senior manager of summer action sports for Octagon. “In the past, an athlete would sign any waiver just to get on TV, but now we’re carving out marketing rights that you can package to a company, and perhaps make the company use the athlete in a way you want. Athletes are not just filler for events anymore.”

For the most part, however, action athletes haven’t reached the level of other sports. “Probably one of the reasons I’m not getting calls [for action athletes] is there are very few [mainstream] superstars,” said Nova Lanktree, executive vice president of marketing for Lanktree/CSMG Sports, the talent side of CSMG Sports.

Most of the skateboarders and snowboarders you see on commercials today are making no more than $40,000 if a spot runs all year, Lanktree said.

Red Bull energy drink has had athlete endorsers since the late 1980s, and it has roughly 120 under contract with cash deals, said Jim Gunning, director of athlete relations. It currently is planning to underwrite adventure athlete Will Gadd’s attempt to climb a two-mile-high ice wall in Nepal.

“The athlete angle has always worked for us,” Gunning said.

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