By ANDREW HORAN - Shop-Eat-Surf.com
The first Action Sports Conference at the X Games was a sold-out session that focused about 250 marketing people on considering how endemic brands, corporations and athletes can work together.
The setting was the Stadium Club of the Home Depot Center, with a backdrop of Moto riders testing the dirt and air in the main stadium, and skateboarders sampling the vert ramp set up nearby in the tennis stadium.
The conference was organized by group Y’s Liz Randall and Mark Sperling with Rick Alessandri of the X Games. Fuel TV was the title sponsor.
The day was split into four sessions.
I’ve distilled about 6 hours of presentations into some take-away highlights.
Brands and athletes
Panelists: Kevin Robinson, BMX rider; Troy Michaels, Target Corp. lifestyle marketing team leader; Brad Lusky, EVP of action sports at Wasserman Media Group; Pat McIlvain, Oakley VP of global sports marketing. Moderator: Mark Borden, senior editor at Fast Company magazine.
• Corporate brands are growing more selective in the athletes they sponsor.
• Corporate brands want athletes to work “away from the sport” for the brand as hard as they work on their sport.
• Endemic sponsors also want athletes who embrace the brand, but who come to it naturally.
“For us at Oakley, it’s about finding athletes who respect the brand for what it is - not because they’re trying to get a paycheck or free product. Then the rest follows, the brand moves to more top-of-mind, you get more exposure, the athlete talks about your brand in a non-contrived, non-NASCAR way.” - Pat McIlvain
• Fitting athletes to brands is about more than winning.
The panelists praised Bruce Irons as a great example of a top performer for his sponsors. As a soul surfer, he never wins contests, but he has such a compelling personality that “he’s always a winner.”
Corporate brands, action sports
Panelists: Bill Carter, Fuse Marketing partner; Vipe Desai, Monster Energy director of marketing; Scott Paridon, Fuel TV VP of production and development; Braden Dahl, New Era action sports strategic business unit manager. Moderator: Rob Campbell, Transworld Business publisher.
• Corporate brands that only mimic endemic brand strategies often fail to catch on with action sports audiences.
• Corporate brands need to start small, move slowly and make long-term commitments to gain credibility with action sports athletes and audiences.
• Marketers need to mix research and instinct. Use the research to get a baseline, then get out and listen to the marketplace.
• Appeal to consumers from the inside of the core audience, then it will flow and grow out to the followers.
• Take the business seriously, but be flexible.
” We take what we do very seriously, but not ourselves. For action sports, it’s very important to realize that’s the way to be.” - Scott Paridon.
What endemic and corporate brands can learn from each other
Panelist: CJ Olivares, Fuel TV GM. Moderator: Tiffany Montgomery, founder and CEO, Shop-eat-surf.com
CJ and Rick Alessandri, ESPN’s SVP and X Games managing partner, announced a new strategic partnership they’d signed just before this session began. Fuel TV will do more promotion of the X Games, including updates on the “Daily Habit,” an X Games “Weekly Update,” and four licensed episodes of “Classics.”
“Action sports makes strange bedfellows, and our parent companies are now in bed together,” CJ joked. ESPN is owned by Disney; Fuel TV by Fox.
• Endemic brands can learn from corporate sponsors how to use a broader mix of media: not just the mags and contests, but online - and TV.
• Mountain Dew’s “Dew Underground” corporate campaign works in an endemic fashion on Fuel TV.
“We created a content platform for Mountain Dew. We took four trips in six weeks, working out concepts for the show. We have to gain insight about what a brand’s about, then we feel our way through the dark” of creating meaningful content. Here’s a video clip:
• Be honest and upfront about what will work, and what won’t, on TV.
• Corporate brands can learn from endemics to build authenticity from the bottom up.
• Product integration can be subtle and still work.
CJ’s example is a show created for the Scion mini-SUVs. Fuel created a 90-second series called “The Guide” for Scion. “In the first two years of the series, you didn’t see a Scion. This year, we painted a vehicle. The opening montage is of (host) Chris Pastras painting the vehicle, but it’s the only time you see it.”
• A perfect endemic-corporate collaboration?
“It would bring the corporate hardcore strategic approach of a full media mix, on multiple distribution platforms with the core, authentic voice.”
Retaining and growing the next generation of athletes and fans
Panelists: Jessica Mendoza, Women’s Sports foundation president; Miki Vuckovich, Tony Hawk Foundation executive director; Gary Ream, Camp Woodward owner; Tim Buche, Motorcycle Industry Assoc. president; Adam Sanderson, Disney-ABC SVP for brand marketing. Moderator: Kathleen Gasperini, Label Networks co-founder and SVP.
Kathleen shared some research to kick off the discussion, based on a survey of 6,278 men and women, 13 to 25 years old.
• Girls represent a huge growth opportunity: they score a higher percentage in wanting to learn core sports than boys.
• Skateboarding scored low among boys, “but that might be because a lot already do skate,” Kathleen said.
• “Action sports” is a phrase that kids don’t recognize. They see their activities as just sports that they love and do.
• Moto has family appeal.
“It might be one of the few things you get to do with your kids where they think, ‘Hey, mom and dad are cool.” - Tim Buche
• Music and action sports will stay linked, and marketers who understand the link can build on each side of the equation.
• Kids have more “points of entry” to action sports with expanded online and TV coverage and growing acceptance and building of skateparks.
“We launched a new network called Disney XD in February to talk to boys in the same way the Disney Channel talks to girls. … When we looked at what’s important to boys, ‘action sports’ rose to the top.” - Adam Sanderson
One leg of programming is the “Next X” reality show that put five kids at Camp Woodward, each with an X Games mentor. The kid who learned the best trick in a week won a trip to the X Games.
Here’s a clip from the first episode: