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Volume 21 No. 26
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Bridgestone’s path to figure skating

Bridgestone is enthusiastic about its global Olympics sponsorship, but there’s no denying it makes more sense in the summer. The Japanese tire maker has always been focused on the 2020 Tokyo Games, and the simple fact is, people don’t buy tires in February.

So in its first Winter Olympics cycle, Bridgestone is turning to U.S. Figure Skating for help striking now, at the peak of the winter tire market.

In a one-year deal signed in September, the company secured title rights to Bridgestone Skate America this weekend in Lake Placid, N.Y., and an extensive array of on-site activation, on-camera signage, hospitality and media assets throughout the figure skating season.

Though Bridgestone did not initially intend to sponsor individual sport teams this year, figure skating has quickly turned into the centerpiece of its autumn strategy.

“Tire sales are so cyclical that you’ve got to capture it when you can,” said Phil Pacsi, Bridgestone Americas vice president of sports and events marketing. “February is not a good time to sell tires. That has not changed.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but major NGB sponsorships like this one are typically priced in the high six figures. The deal developed out of Bridgestone’s springtime signing of figure skaters Ashley Wagner and Nathan Chen, which led to talks this summer with U.S. Figure Skating and its marketing adviser, Van Wagner, over how to maximize those relationships.

Title rights to Skate America were vacant after Progressive’s deal expired, and Wagner and Chen were both committed to the event, which figures to draw a solid holiday weekend audience across NBC, NBCSN and the Olympic Channel. And Bridgestone already planned to buy media associated with the event.

Signing skater Ashley Wagner in the spring led to talks of a wider deal in the sport.
“It just seemed like a natural fit to take that extension a little bit further and entitle the event your two biggest skating athletes are going to be associated with,” said U.S. Figure Skating CMO Ramsey Baker. Pacsi agreed, and the deal closed in September.

Baker said Bridgestone already has impressed him as an eager, flexible sponsor that didn’t let the late development of the deal hold it back. A major presence in remote Lake Placid on Thanksgiving weekend is a big request, but in about 48 hours they agreed on an activation plan.

“We love that willingness to think outside of the traditional model of, ‘OK, we have to send in two to three staff members and hire an activation agency to pull this together, and have this long, drawn-out plan,’” Baker said. “We just simplified it for them, and they were willing to do it.”

Creatively, the tires/skating connection is straightforward: Figure skaters must execute precise maneuvers on ice, exactly what Bridgestone promises its winter tires will do through “clutch performance.”

A commercial starring Wagner promoting the Potenza tires started airing Oct. 22, and at Skate America there will be a fan skating contest called the “Clutch Performance Challenge” and the “Clutch Performance Preview,” a 45-minute “chalk talk” with USFS’s Ice Network hosts that was already happening anyway.

Because USFS owns domestic rights to International Skating Union events, it was able to give Bridgestone action footage of Chen and Wagner and also included a media schedule across numerous figure skating competitions this season. Bridgestone also will activate on site at the Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships beginning in late December.

Bridgestone joins USFS’s portfolio along with Prudential, Smucker’s, Toyota, Viking Cruises, Cabinets to Go, Consumer Cellular and Procter & Gamble.