SBJ/May 1 - 7, 2006/SBJ In Depth

Dew Tour sets goals for its second year

When Wade Martin, the general manager of the Dew Action Sports Tour, left a meeting during a tour stop in San Jose last September, he feared he’d find a venue filled with as many athletes as spectators. It was a Friday, students were back in school, it was the first weekend of NFL football and the day before few locals attended.

Action sports enthusiasts line up in Portland, one
of five cities on the Dew Tour’s schedule.
But the first event he stumbled upon told a different story. The crowd watching the BMX dirt bike competition erupted as rider Ryan Guettler shook off an injury, exited an ambulance, returned to the course and won the event.

“The crowd was insane,” Martin recalled. “It was a true awakening moment of the tour where I said, ‘Wow, it’s got steam.’”

What had begun as a successful experiment in Louisville, Ky., two months before had morphed into the first nationally televised action sports tour, ultimately attracting 56,500 people during its final weekend in Orlando.

Now, in its second year, the tour hopes to grow attendance, improve TV ratings and develop more action sports stars. The tour opens June 22-25 in Louisville.

To achieve those goals, Martin and his team have expanded the tour’s sponsorship roster, improved their ties with promotional partners and strengthened local ties in the tour’s five stops — Louisville, Denver, Portland, San Jose and Orlando.

Said Martin, “We’re not making any changes to the product; we just want to expose it to more people.”

All of last year’s sponsors have returned this year, and the tour added MasterCard and ConAgra Foods’ Slim Jim brand as associate-level sponsors. Both signed two-year deals valued in the high six figures per year.

Slim Jim plans to promote events through its retail base at convenience stores. With Mountain Dew planning to do the same, the Dew Tour has extended its reach into the five communities where it stops, Martin said.

Plans are also in the works to add a wireless provider. Tour officials have been rumored to be working with Verizon Wireless on a deal that would make the wireless company the exclusive sponsor of the music concerts during the tour. Martin said the wireless provider, once named, would provide wireless alerts, highlights and footage of the tour, broadening the tour’s reach.

Additionally, officials are working on an agreement to partner with an online service provider such as Yahoo! or AOL who could act as a portal to the official Web site, Martin said. The agreement would function similarly to the one struck between ESPN.com and NBC during the Winter Olympics, when ESPN.com provided a link to nbcolympics.com on its home page.

NBC provides more than 20 hours of live
coverage of the Dew Tour and a highlight show.
“Anything we do online or wirelessly or on any other platform can only feed our NBC broadcast,” Martin said, adding that it fits into the goal of raising the network’s television ratings. Last year, the tour drew 1.53 million household viewers for its stop in Denver.

To broaden its national appeal, tour officials plan to enhance national marketing this year. Martin said the tour has strengthened its efforts with its promotional partners: TransWorld magazines, MySpace.com, Fox Sports Radio and Fuel TV. Those partners have improved their efforts based on experience gained last year, he added.

During the first year of the tour, Fox Sports Radio’s commentators faced a “huge learning curve” for the event, said Andrew Ashwood, the network’s general manager. Now that commentators are more versed in the events and competitors, Ashwood said the network plans to have more athletes on the air between events. They also plan to do a better job of helping those stars resonate with fans of traditional sports such as basketball and football.

“We’re not going to spend a lot of time talking about a guy who can do double flips off a vert ramp,” Ashwood said, “but we will talk about a guy and what he does to make him good at what he does. If you will, we’ll mainstream that product.”

Efforts like that should help the brand build nationally, Martin said, which will make the job locally easier. Last year, the tour started off slowly, attracting only 36,700 people to its first event in Louisville over the course of the weekend. This year, it’s making a broader push to improve local awareness of the event.

In Louisville, the tour will be on the Churchill Downs’ infield during the weekend of the Kentucky Derby and hopes to have one of its star athletes join it for the Run for the Roses, said Ethan Green, the tour’s director of marketing. They also plan to return to set up a vert skateboard ramp in the infield for Family FunFest in late May.

“We have to bring the product to them and show them the product,” Green said. “It’s a call to action.”

Similar efforts are being made in Denver, where the tour has partnered with two skateboard shops, TS Sports Shop and 303 Skateboards. Both will promote the event locally, passing out fliers at skate parks and at their shop. There’s also talk of showing up at the Denver Skate Park, downtown, with an athlete, said TS Sports Shop owner Bryan Dehaven.

“The biggest difference this makes is it gets to the root level of the skateboarders,” Dehaven said. “If they see us pushing this event, they’re a lot more likely to think it’s not such a commercialized event. It gives it more credibility.”

Building action sports stars will further enhance the tour’s credibility, Green said. The group is already excited about the attention snowboarding Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, who also skateboards, will generate at tour stops this summer. At the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championship, White attracted flocks of elementary schoolchildren who begged him for an autograph.

“The moms out there know who he is now,” Green said. “I’m confident he can bring us a whole new crowd.”

While White lends the tour instant recognition, Martin also hopes to build other stars this summer. To do so, he plans to leverage story lines from last year’s tour such as the success of Guettler, who won two Dew Cups in BMX and faces longtime veteran Dave Mirra. Martin said developing interest around stars and story lines will allow the tour to grow.

If it grows, look for the tour to add more stops, Martin said. The tour has stayed in touch with officials at sites it considered two years ago. An event in the Northeast or Midwest could happen in the future.

“We see that as part of exposing the product to more people,” Martin said, “and having a greater geographic footprint to share the sports.”

DEW ACTION SPORTS TOUR

Owner:NBC Universal and Live Nation
Dates/locations: June 22-25, Panasonic Open, Louisville, Kentucky Exposition Center; July 13-16, Right Guard Open, Denver, Pepsi Center; Aug. 17-20, Vans Invitational, Portland, Rose Quarter; Sept. 7-10, Toyota Challenge, San Jose, HP Pavilion; Oct. 12-15, PlayStation Pro, Orlando, TD Waterhouse Centre
TV: 22 hours of live action on NBC and 10 hours on USA; 1-hour highlight show on NBC
Competitions: Skateboarding (park and vert); BMX (park, vert and dirt); freestyle motocross. At season’s end, the tour awards champions in the six combined disciplines with the Dew Cup.
Tour title partner: Mountain Dew
Event title partners: Panasonic, Right Guard, Vans, Toyota, PlayStation
Associate partners: MasterCard, Mongoose, OXY, Peanut Chews, Slim Jim, Verizon Wireless
Promotional partners: TransWorld Media, MAD, Fox Sports Radio, MySpace.com, Fuel TV, DC Comics
Official suppliers: OGIO, Hawk, MasterCraft, Panasonic Oxyride

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