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Volume 20 No. 42
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The Gatekeepers: Cuan Petersen

Director of performance sports marketing, Oakley

Cuan Petersen says one reason he regularly swims 2.4 miles, bikes 112 miles and then runs 26.2 miles as a competitor in the Ford Ironman Series is so he can keep up with his wife, Fiona, a world champion triathlete. “I ‘participate’ in it, anyway,” Petersen said. “‘Racing’ is for those who get top 10s … like my wife.”

Since joining Oakley in 1996, the South African native has maintained the focus of a triathlete. He has, at various times, managed the company’s marketing efforts on four continents, and has led its Olympic-related efforts since the 2000 Sydney Games.

Cuan Petersen
Now at the company’s headquarters in Foothill Ranch, Calif., Petersen is leading Oakley’s strategy to put more focus on traditional sports, after building a brand whose products are often associated with action sports athletes and events.
Last fall, the company signed a sponsorship and licensing agreement with the U.S. Olympic Committee that will allow it to outfit members of Team USA with its eyewear during Olympic competition. Oakley will release a line of Team USA eyewear in October.

The deal was significant because, despite having marketing deals with more than 600 athletes, Oakley wasn’t a sponsor of the USOC or any other national Olympic committee. As a result, Petersen said, Oakley has always had to stop promoting its Olympic athletes at retail two weeks before the Games in order to comply with International Olympic Committee rules.

Oakley made the most of that exclusion, however. At the Vancouver Games, for example, the company set up the Oakley Safehouse, a renovated loft a few minutes away from the official athlete village, where its competitors could eat, drink, play video games and design their own one-of-a-kind Oakley eyewear.

“This [USOC] deal allows us to talk and boast and brag a little about our Olympic achievements,” Petersen said.
Oakley took another step toward increasing its exposure in traditional sports in December when it signed an apparel and eyewear deal with golfer Rory McIlroy. Petersen said that quantifying ROI for signature deals such as the Olympic athletes and McIlroy is easier to do than measuring exposure of a title-sponsored event.

“Our golf sales have been unbelievable,” Petersen said. “Just walk into any Golf Galaxy. The response to Rory’s ‘Dominate Distraction’ campaign has been phenomenal.”

Strangest pitch received: A call from South America with an offer to put the Oakley logo on the towel of a racing horse. The pitch included creating custom-made sunglasses for the horse.

What properties could do better: “A lot of properties just completely ignore the ‘partnership’ part. Rather than ‘How can we grow this relationship together,’ it’s just ‘Where’s the check? Now watch us grow.’”

What brands could do better: “A lot of brands are missing the relationship side. We consider our athletes as family. We make them feel at home. They are wearing our products because they feel that they are great products, but we take care of them like family.”