The Sport of Branding

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by Kelly Waterhouse

Canadians love their sports and smart companies know that. Sponsorship is the name of the game, but for sports eyewear companies who attach a brand to an athlete
or team, the payoff is more than just clever marketing; it’s authentic product development based on a genuine connection with the athletes and their sport.
For sports eyewear companies like Bollé and Zeal, it begins with understanding their niche sports markets. Nobody can teach sports eyewear developers and marketers what their product needs to be better than the athletes who wear them.

Bollé has invested their resources and technology into the sport of cycling as official sponsors of Australia’s Orica-GreenEDGE professional road race cycling team. With two rosters, (men and women), competing in the UCI World Tour, the team consists of athletes from
nine countries, including Canada.

“A young, aggressive and very capable team, Orica-GreenEDGEs is a perfect match for Bollé’s determined effort to be a leader in eyewear for cycling,” said Rene Gerber, Eyewear Marketing Manager, Bushnell Outdoor Products, Canada.

“We believe that supporting competitors is the best way to demonstrate our commitment to the sports for which we make products,” said Gerber, adding, “The athletes
and teams we sponsor are the best possible brand ambassadors. Our roster of athletes provides us with key feedback on how our products
perform in a remarkably wide range of conditions.”

In fact, each of these sports eyewear companies would agree, their athlete ambassadors are the best
R&D going. To become leaders in the cycling world, Bollé crafted a product based on the technology and design specific to their athlete’s needs.

“It starts with a holistic approach in which every component is carefully engineered to maximize performance across a wide range of real-world
situations,” Gerber said. “Lenses are—of course—the starting point and our B-Clear (Trivex) lenses set the standard for optical clarity, light
weight and impact resistance. Further, lenses of all cycling models benefit from Bollé’s industry leading anti-fog coating. Frames are ergonomically
and aerodynamically designed to ensure a comfortable no-slip fit.”

Whether training or winning the team time trial during the 2013 Tour de France, holding the Yellow Jersey for several days, the OricaGreen-Edge team wears Bollé’s
new 6th Sense model, the most technologically advanced cycling sunglass the company has ever produced.

Switching gears to another view on sponsorship, Zeal believes authenticity in a product is as important as a genuine relationship with the ambassador
athletes the company sponsors.

“Any brand can pay money and find people to endorse their products, no matter what they are. But it is about the quality of the conversation that your ambassadors have with their fans and friends and media,” said Joe Prebich, Director of Marketing for Zeal Otpics, “Ensuring that your brand message is one of authenticity and that there is not an ad-style marketing push behind interviews and statements but a real love of the partnerships that the athlete has created, that is where we
stand.”

While not many Canadians think of surfing when they think of our national sports, to Zeal, this kind of out-of-the-box sponsorship made complete sense when they put their brand name behind Pete Devries, a cold water surfer out of Torfino, British Columbia.

“Pete truly epitomizes what makes a Zeal athlete different than the rest of the athletes out there,” explains Prebich. “Pete is a story like
no other: a singular strong hold on the Canadian surfing scene. Making a name for himself by going further and adventuring farther than other surfers
are willing to go.” Prebich adds, “There is a very unique sport culture in Canada where people are all over in many different sports pushing the limits of what they can do. But I think what defines a Canadian athlete like this is a sense of humbleness about their adventures. We at Zeal focus on people that search, journey and explore the world around them and often there aren’t lots of camera or media outlets, instead it is an individual drive for achievement.”

While he understands the merits of technological advancements, Prebich insists that Zeal’s line of sports eyewear products is not their only competitive advantage. Their philosophical approach is their signature move.

“No matter how amazing your R&D, sometimes there are intangibles that just help you excel …” Prebich said. “So for us, we focus on our product but also on
the athletes themselves. We support them as a member of our family, discuss and create plans of attack for their competitions and help them get physically and mentally ready for their debut. This is what I think defines us as different. Lots of companies out there are bigger than us, have more engineers than us, but
we have a connection to our athletes that other brands don’t have …This confidence in us as a sponsor gives them confidence in themselves as athletes. Product is certainly a big part of what we do but it isn’t the only part.”

Like Bollé, Zeal has focused on niche sports markets where the company’s passion clearly lies.

“Truly the only way to be a great marketer in sport is to know what you are doing, understand the culture and dynamics of the inner circle of the core influencers and spend time and effort to create relationships with those people,” Prebich said. “For example, skiing and snowboarding are key sports for us as a brand. We stay
relevant to this globally by being able to be influential locally. We live in the mountains, right outside our door we can go ski or ride and that ability to
have an authentic conversation about product performance and to know what is happening at ground zero translates across countries and barriers.”

For sports eyewear industry leaders like Zeal Optics and Bollé, commitment to the integrity of their brand is as important as the success of the athletes who wear them. That’s a win-win. For consumers, product associations with athletes assure fans and sports eyewear consumers of a quality product, tested by the best
athletes in the sport.

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