AKRON (Oct. 14, 2015) —“Fore!”
“That ball is out of here!”
“Nothing but net.”
All common sports catchphrases that tire makers are cozying up to as they try to gain more traction with potential customers, many of whom are what you might call “rabid” sports fans.
And the trend of tire manufacturers' becoming the “official tire” of various sporting leagues, sponsoring sport teams and even individual events has put tires in the center of the ring.
The most recent illustration of this trend is the deal Falken Tire Corp. struck to be the “official tire” of Major League Baseball (MLB).
“Our brand has evolved a lot in the past five to six years, and we've evolved from a high-performance company that sold mainly performance tires to a company that now offers everything from small car tires all the way up to medium truck tires,” Rick Brennan, Falken's executive director of marketing, told Tire Business.
“And our past activity has all been centered around motorsports, which worked great for the high-performance market, but as we go into other markets with new kinds of tires, we find that we need a little bit more of a broad message than just a motorsports message taking out to the normal consumer.”
Entering into sports marketing is the “next evolution of our brand” to get the attention of the people Falken needs to reach with all the products it sells today, Mr. Brennan added.
“When you look at the opportunities that are out there, you have to really understand the difference between the different sports series that are out there…,” he said.
“And then also, do you sponsor a team? Or do you sponsor a league? So the challenges with just sponsoring single teams are that you really only hit a single market. And for us, our vision was to be able to talk to the whole United States.”
While Falken Tire is the official tire of MLB, other tire manufacturers still have the opportunity to sponsor individual teams in the league, Matt Bourne, MLB spokesperson, told Tire Business.
“How we designate sponsorships at the league level and the team level is really the difference between national and local. So, Falken as a Major League Baseball sponsor has the right to do national promotions, national advertising, encompassing MLB logo and the collection of all 30 teams together,” he explained.
Mr. Bourne added that if a company is a sponsor of a team, “then you have the ability to promote your partnership with the team in that market, in that region and just using team marks….
“Falken is a sponsor of the Tigers before they became a sponsor of Major League Baseball, so in that instance, there is a defined area in and around Detroit where they could do advertising, promotions and marketing activity in conjunction with the Tigers logos and…Detroit Tigers intellectual property inside that specific area.”
Prior to this, Bridgestone Americas' Firestone brand was the official tire of MLB, from 2010 through 2014. John Baratta, president of consumer tire replacement sales, called that deal in 2010 a “tremendous opportunity to elevate the Firestone brand to new heights of consumer awareness and visibility.”
Falken's contract kicks off with this year's post season and will interface with fans directly at all of the post-season games, including the World Series, as well as at next year's All-Star Week. The Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based tire marketer also will have activation on-site and have Falken giveaways, including a seat giveaway at the first game of the World Series, where one attendee will win a set of Falken tires.
The company's contract runs through 2017, with plans to continue it if things go well, Mr. Brennan said. Neither Falken nor MLB disclosed the value of the contract.
Falken also recently revamped its motorsports strategy, ending a six-year engagement with the Tudor United Sports Car Challenge and moving more heavily into support of “grass-roots” racing venues. (See story on page 15.)
Kal Tire also recently announced that the Canadian Football League (CFL) has partnered with the company and Michelin North America Inc.'s BFGoodrich brand, which will become the official tire of the CFL. Kal and BFG will become sponsors of the CFL, the 2015 CFL playoffs and the 2015 Grey Cup game to be played in late November. Additionally, Kal Tire said the company, along with BFGoodrich Tires, will have a physical and digital advertising presence both on the sidelines at Canada's biggest celebration of football and digitally on the league's www.CFL.ca website.
The sports marketing trend is not just in the tire industry, according to Lisa Wood, brand development manager, Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C., but one across various markets. “It has large impressions and a captive audience,” she said.
When selecting sports marketing as an avenue, she said Conti knows where the audience is going to be every week for those campaigns, which fits a target market the company is pursuing.
“Sports are in our company's DNA,” said Phil Pacsi, vice president of sports/event marketing and training, Bridgestone Americas. “Harvey Firestone became the first sports marketer after he went to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the early 1900s.
“In 2016, we will celebrate the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race. Fire¬stone tires were on the winning car in 1911 and will be on the winning car in 2016.”
Bridgestone has scaled back its motorsports involvement the past few years, moving more heavily into sports/event marketing support, both in North America and globally, Mr. Pacsi said.
Sports marketing has an active audience, which can differ from some other venues.
“Sports are an arena where people are taking in the environment and soaking up the atmosphere,” said Kyle Roberts, director of marketing for Nexen Tire America Inc., which has had ties with soccer, baseball and college basketball in recent years.
With sports, the marketing message may be more easily digested by consumers, as they become more predisposed to tune out messages distributed by print, radio or television, he said.
In addition to its longtime motorsports sponsorships in NASCAR and the NHRA, Goodyear has launched a season-long marketing program focused on its involvement in college football. For the second year in a row, the Akron tire maker will be the title sponsor of the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, a semi-final game in the college football playoff that will be played on New Years Eve in Dallas.
To reinforce its connection to college football, Goodyear said it launched a season-long marketing program highlighting the “Winning Traditions” of college football that inspire superior performance. The campaign will be promoted on TV, print, online, radio and in store. Goodyear also has teamed up with ESPN to develop and promote custom content related to the “Winning Traditions” theme, which includes a fan vote to determine the best college football tradition, and a sweepstakes sending fans to the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.
For Goodyear, “the connection to college football and traditions is a natural one—thanks to the Goodyear Blimp, which has been providing aerial coverage of college football for 60 years,” a spokesman said. The blimp first provided aerial views of the 1955 Rose Bowl, revolutionizing the way fans experience sporting events. In the years since, Goodyear's iconic airship has covered some of the biggest matchups in college and National Football League history, he added.
Fred Koplin, senior director of marketing and motorsports for Yokohama Tire Corp., said the company's longstanding sports marketing program has been a success, including positive dealer feedback.
“From football to baseball to women's golf — and now English Premier League soccer champion Chelsea (England Football Club) — sports marketing has been a perfect way for Yokohama to partner with our dealers to raise brand awareness with consumers and influence brand consideration,” he said.
Different tire manufacturers select different sporting opportunities.
“We look for higher level things that have a 360-approach,” said Ms. Wood, explaining that Conti looks for the “richest branding package we can achieve.” For instance, Conti typically does national campaigns that can benefit the company, its dealers and consumers.
Conti has a number of sports marketing opportunities other than soccer, which is something the company can participate in on a global scale. “We do what's right by market,” she said.
Some efforts by tire manufacturers are on a global scale, while others may be national or even regional.
“Nexen targets a geographical region (where) we want more brand awareness in and in markets where we feel there is exponential growth available to us,” Mr. Roberts said.
Bridgestone sets up its North American sport partnerships domestically, but some may have international extensions. Mr. Pacsi said that its National Hockey League (NHL) sponsorship works as a “cross-border” sponsorship that includes both U.S. and Canadian activations, and the company also partners with several of the Canada-based teams.
With the Firestone Racing program, the company will also participate in international races when scheduled by the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“Our business spans international borders, and we are seeing sports leagues trending towards larger international presences as well,” he said. “In the U.S., we will continue to focus on partnerships that best serve our domestic market, but we are encouraged by, excited about and supportive of the continuing globalization of sport.
“Across Latin America there are a number of other exciting partnerships as well, including the Copa Bridgestone Libertadores soccer series and the Bridgestone Americas Golf Cup, among others. In Europe, Bridgestone is involved with alpine skiing.”
Mr. Koplin said Yokohama seeks to activate global partnerships by leveraging the tire maker with Chelsea's strong fan base to reach a new audience about its products.
“As we all know, sports fans are extremely loyal and passionate about their teams. That's why Yokohama produces a detailed, strategic sports marketing program that connects enthusiastic sports fans with our dealers,” he said. “This will help us achieve the same strong results we have enjoyed since 2007 with our American stick and ball sponsorships.”
Ultimately, tire manufacturers select sports marketing as a way to reach target demographics because the potential for impressions is significant.
There are many sport marketing initiatives going on in the industry, here are just a few:
American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd.
- Three-year deals with four college athletic programs: University of Georgia, University of Mississippi, Vanderbilt University and Elon University, in addition to its sponsorship of Ohio State University athletics for the past several years.
- Sponsor of the Olympic Games, both summer and winter, through 2024, including “official tire” status for the Bridgestone brand.
- Official tire of the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association.
Continental Tire the Americas
- Official tire of Major League Soccer in the U.S. and Canada, since 2010
- Sponsor and official tire of U.S. Soccer's Men's, Women's and Youth National Teams through 2016
- Multi-year deal to be official tire of the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO).
- Official tire of 23 collegiate basketball teams and several tournaments.
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.
- Official tire of Professional Bull Riders Inc. since 2009.
Falken Tire Corp.
- Official tire of Major League Baseball
- Official brand sponsor of “FC Ingolstadt 04,” a Football Club in the German Bundesliga
Hankook Tire America Inc.:
- “Great Hit” MLB promotion with mail-in rebate program for consumers.
- Signage for Hankook Tire Europe G.m.b.H on display at the 2015 UEFA Europa League Final soccer match.
Kumho Tire USA Inc.:
- Official tire of the National Basketball Association and NBA Development League (NBA D-League) in the U.S., Canada and South Korea; multi-year deal.
Nexen Tire Corp.:
- Official partner of the Manchester City Football Club.
- Extended partnership with four Major League Baseball (MLB) teams: Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels for the 2015 baseball season.
Maxxis International USA:
- Sponsor of the Atlanta Braves during 2015 season.
- Exclusive tire sponsor for the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2014-15 season.
- Official tire of the NBA's Charlotte Hornets.
- “Green Monster” experience at a Boston Red Sox-Detroit Tigers game.
- Official tire of Tough Mudder Inc.
Yokohama Tire Corp:
- Sponsor of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.
- Title sponsor for the annual Yokohama Tire Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Classic through 2016.
- Shirt sponsor for Chelsea (England) Football Club for the next five years.