SBJ/June 27 - July 3, 2011/In Depth

Bigelow makes tea manly through spots

Beverages, especially beer and soft drinks, have been supporting the sports economy for more than 100 years. However, even sailing aficionados might not remember the connection between tea and American sports. Tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton tried unsuccessfully five times between 1899 and 1930 to win the America’s Cup, gaining fame for his brand, if not his yacht-racing acumen.

The more recent connection between tea and U.S. sports began in 2005, when the folks at Bigelow Tea read a New York Times story about then-New York Yankees manager Joe Torre drinking green tea

Brand: Bigelow Tea

Athlete endorsers:
Joe Torre, Phil Simms, Wayne Gretzky, Terry Francona

The goal:
Raising brand awareness, and making tea, especially green tea, more relevant to male consumers.

Why it worked:
“It was kind of kismet. There was a big move by men toward more healthy stuff, including green tea, and these guys are such authentic endorsers that when they talk about Bigelow, it’s obvious they know and love our brand.” — Cindi Bigelow
after receiving a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Cindi Bigelow’s surname has been associated with tea since her grandmother founded Bigelow Tea in 1945, but after reading about Torre drinking her brand, she had what she described as a “V8 moment.” Men were already drinking tea in greater numbers, and Torre was someone who could elevate the brand’s stature while giving more men permission to drink tea.

Quicker than you can boil water, Torre was in print and radio ads for Bigelow, later complemented by CBS Sports NFL analyst Phil Simms, Red Sox manager Terry Francona and NHL überstar Wayne Gretzky. Bigelow’s spokesmen often make trade appearances, and since those buyers skew male, that’s an effective pitch.

“We don’t exactly have Coke’s marketing budget,” said Bigelow, president of the Fairfield, Conn., family-owned business since 2005, “but the combination of Torre’s fame with the Yankees and all of our guys’ passion for tea and health made it work.”

Bigelow’s sales were up 12 percent last year, and Bigelow is projecting a 7 percent increase when its current fiscal year ends.

“Torre and the rest of our champions have had a tremendous impact, not only on sales but on brand awareness,” said Bob Kelly, the company’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. “And it’s really their credibility that’s the cornerstone.”

— Terry Lefton
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