Sponsor companies ask: Is it worth it?
Smith Sport Optics, Inc., shells out hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to dozens of athletes in six different sports. What does the company get in return? Well … it doesn’t exactly know.
“That’s something we ask ourselves every day,” said Smith promotions manager Tag Kleiner, “”Is this money well spent?'”
Companies in the sponsorship business say it’s impossible to quantify. They send athletes to contests, festivals and photo shoots decked out in logos and geared up with equipment. What the companies hope to get in return is a direct connection to consumers. They expect the athletes not only to perform at the highest level, but also to act as an ambassador for the brand.
“I think people look at athletes and notice what equipment they’re using,” Kleiner said. “It’s the association that helps us out.”
It’s a marketing formula that must work, because many of the world’s most successful action-sport clothing and equipment companies have attached their names to athletes.
At Smith, there are four levels of sponsored athlete: those who get discounted product; those who get free product; those who get money for wins and media appearances; and those on retainer who get a monthly paycheck.
Athletes on all four levels make up the Smith team in six different sports: skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, surfing, skateboarding and motocross.
The formula also works on the local level.
Several Summit County bar/restaurants and ski/bike shops have teams competing in the Summit mountain bike series. The theory is the same as it is for national companies: Get the brand name out and hope the athletes represent it well.
“It keeps us in the eye of the cycling public,” said Chuck Ginsburg, manager of A Racers Edge in Breckenridge, which sponsors teams of locals in skiing, snowboarding and mountain biking. “It’s hard to put a finger on the exact value of it. I think it’s worth it or we wouldn’t continue doing it.”
Costs to the store include paying entry fees, providing labor and parts to maintain equipment, furnishing team jerseys and taking the time (through resume evaluations and interviews) to choose the right athletes. There are a total of 18 people on the Racers Edge bike team this summer. In the winter, the store sponsors dozens of young skiers and snowboarders from Team Summit and the Quantum Sports Club.
“We definitely put a lot of time and money into it,” Ginsburg said. “But we feel it’s worth it.”
Even if it doesn’t come back in money, sponsoring athletes allows businesses to stay involved in and give something back to the industries and athletes that support them.
“We like to do this sort of stuff for people who want to go somewhere with their sport,” Ginsburg said. “We like to see these guys succeed and move on to higher levels of racing.”
“It’s just nice to support our local skiers, because they’ve been loyal to us,” said Arapahoe Basin spokeswoman Leigh Hierholzer.
A-Basin is one of three local ski areas that has a team of sponsored athletes. Copper’s Freeride Team is the most extensive and visible. Arapahoe supports four skiers and one snowboarder as they travel the extreme skiing circuit. The athletes, including Rex Wehrman, Gary Fondl and Jules Larson, receive an A-Basin season pass and some clothing.
“It gives us good exposure,” Hierholzer said, “especially if they’re doing well.”
A-Basin keeps its sponsorship program on the small side. Smith’s is enormous for an eyewear company based in Idaho.
Businesses in the action-sports market have to decide how much of their marketing budget will be spent on sponsorships. And even though the return each sponsored athlete secures for a company cannot be tracked or measured, many companies think it’s real.
Jason Starr can be reached at (970) 668-3998 Ext. 231 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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