(Editors note: This story is part two of a two-part series that looks at the changing world of sponsorships. The first story was posted Tuesday, Feb. 8.)
Lindsey Vonn. Bode Miller. Tanner Hall. Seth Morrison.
Many people idolize these skiers. Yet do most consumers know which brands these athletes use? Not likely.
But retailers and manufacturers alike say sponsored athletes serve as brand ambassadors who bring customers into ski shops asking for the exact product they saw on the podium.
“Do we have a sure way of tracking those sales? No, not particularly,” says Andrew Couperthwait, Head‘s alpine product manager. “It’s definitely a brand-awareness type situation.”
And the younger the consumer, the more influenced they tend to be.
“We see it a lot more in the younger kids who are much more aware of what’s going on,” says Tyler Bunch, co-owner of the Alpine Ski Shop in Sterling, Va.
He says it’s the generation that watches the X Games, the Dew Tour and the Olympics, and knows who the athletes are, the events in which they compete and who wins.
Josh Walker, Bern‘s brand manager, is OK with “kids” being the ones who are brand aware. Walker says he pumps the bulk of his marketing dollars into athletes, and those athletes help influence core consumers.
“In the process of building our brand, athletes have been invaluable,” he says. “We definitely believe in the trickle-down effect. It’s worked for us.”
In other words, Walker invests in brand awareness among core consumers who then influence average consumers and, ultimately, grow the brand.
But does that really translate to sales for the retailer?
“A little bit,” Bunch says.
Hank Moore, retail department manager of Teton Village Sports in Jackson, Wyo., agrees. His customers may not know exactly what gear pro athletes use, but buyers are interested in athletes’ pro-series products.
That’s likely because it’s a one-of-a-kind, limited-edition product, he says.
Back in Virginia, Bunch says his customers don’t care as much about pro-series models. They pick products based on quality and aesthetics. If it has a pro skier’s name attached to it, that’s just a bonus, he says.
“It’s more a selling point afterwards,” he says.
Unless the athlete has serious star power, that is.
Dean Giez, manager of The Ski Hut in Duluth, Minn., points to athletes like Lance Armstrong who helped make road biking more popular, which then translated to sales.
Giez says people don’t always buy a specific product because it’s the best. They sometimes buy gear because it’s from a brand they know. Athletes go hand-in-hand with that.
When Head-sponsored-athlete Lindsey Vonn was in the limelight before, during and after the Olympics, Couperthwait says it was a success not only for ski racing, but for Head.
And at Bern, Walker says the company’s helmet sales spiked when its athletes were on the podium – especially Seth Wescott who won snowboardcross gold at the Vancouver Olympics.
Despite mixed messages on the payoff, retailers and manufacturers alike say sponsored athletes end up driving sales.
“I think it’s well worth the money that they’re putting into it,” Bunch says.
And Moore echoes that: “Certainly the brand awareness is beneficial to the retailers.”