I’m not ashamed to admit that I could watch ski and snowboard films all day. There’s something so alluring about the mountains; people have always loved being close to and at the mercy of nature at its most unpredictable and this has provided the perfect backdrop for a huge number of sports that we know and love.
When you think about the brands that associate themselves with these sports, the most ubiquitous tend to have a literal link, like energy drinks, alongside the relevant equipment and apparel brands. Undeniably Red Bull has become synonymous with extreme sports; it has stuck to its guns, made its presence known and created new events under its brand banner alongside existing ones within the category to truly cement its domination. It’s quite a niche world and one in which there aren’t many rules for traditional broadcast and dissemination of information. Red Bull Media House recently announced a partnership with Reuters to provide extreme sports and lifestyle sports content to their list of international news subscribers around the world, which will bring them a new level of exposure.
With domination of the category I can understand why extreme sports tends to get overlooked for sponsorship in favour of aligning with the tried and tested routes for generating the highest reach possible. You can’t argue with the 4.7bn global viewing figures of the Premier League, but according to ‘The Future of Sports’ report, extreme sports in the US will challenge professional and collegiate team sports for the title of most-watched category of sports content by 2020.And this is despite the fact that these sports are not routinely broadcast on TV, but consumed on YouTube as well as well-known outlets dedicated to their broadcast like Teton Gravity Research and Epic TV.
In my opinion here is a category of sports where all factors point to a large potential for growth, where the challenges provide exciting opportunities to be creative in order to break free from the dominance of Red Bull and reach new and loyal audiences for your brand.
Self-generated content & social media
The age of GoPro and YouTube has allowed us all to be film-makers, athletes included. Okay, so we may not be able to make ski films like Teton Gravity Research have been for years, but we can strap a camera to our heads whilst skiing through the trees or bouldering a technical route and the very nature of these activities makes our own curated outdoor content inherently more watchable.
Athletes have to generate large followings on social media to attract sponsors and increase the reach of these sports to the mainstream. This makes innovation and social media essential for the survival of these sports; the engaged audience has existed for years, but the wider audience opens up more possibilities for brands, participation and funding. Brands have a fundamental role to play here: they have the creativity and technology to take these sports to new audiences, whilst making the most of the influence you can have on the athlete’s own audiences using their heroism/heroinism to tell your story.
Cross-pollination of audiences
Skaters and surfers can appreciate ski and snowboard films (and vice versa) because they often emulate a similar vibe that resonates across audiences; for example, these skiers making use of the streets in Boston covered in snow will have taken inspiration from street skating. If you sign up to partner with one sport in the ‘extreme’ category, your audience is immediately wider than these seemingly niche sports would indicate.
There are opportunities here for brands to speak to audiences across sports. Luxury brands have started to do this particularly well; this short film that we made for luxury whisky brand Royal Salute blended polo and surfing in Hawaii. The strategy was to demonstrate polo as a lifestyle that brings people together; the comparison of the unpredictable nature of horses and the ocean gives both sports new dimensions and, therefore, an appreciation from new audiences. Tag Heuer’s free riding series is similar and highlights the technique, power and fearlessness of free diving, trail running and mountain bike free riding. It’s about finding amazing people with incredible untold stories and telling them through a brand or campaign filter, e.g. Tag Heuer’s #dontcrackunderpressure.
Sports that we may class as extreme at the professional level are characteristically lifestyles at their grassroots. For the average person activities and hobbies like skiing and snowboarding, scuba diving, surfing, climbing, skate boarding, etc. transcends sport as a leisure activity. They can deliver on skill and competition, but they also provide a platform to feel connected to something greater and ultimately get closer to nature.
Snowboarding essentially didn’t exist 30 years ago and now boasts 5 million participants worldwide, whilst skateboarding started a style craze. It could be a specific lifestyle that leads you to one of these sports or just our obsession with the extremes of human experience – you don’t necessarily need to get involved at school. There are opportunities here for representatives of these sports as a way of life to get involved as brand ambassadors, particularly if you are looking to channel the ethos of one of these sports to make them more humanly accessible. Indeed many of these athletes are not international superstars and so are arguably more accessible as inspirational and aspirational figures.
The great outdoors is irrevocably changing. Whether you notice it or not, snow in the Alps is gradually becoming a more finite entity. For any sports that depend upon the way that we treat the planet, there are inevitable worthy and high profile initiatives that present opportunities for partners and sponsors to support. Ben + Jerry’s alongside New Belgium Brewing have teamed up with Protect our Winters (POW) with new products that pledge a donation to the cause. The point here is that brands who choose to invest in these sports and the issues they face will buy stronger and deeper loyalty and advocacy amongst participants and fans of extreme sports than you could ever imagine.
With extreme sports there are obvious superficial barriers to entry: there is risk attached and the entire genre seems to be completely owned by Red Bull. The former can be managed by a controlled and measured approach, the latter is pure perception; their association is dominant, but this does not mean that there is not enough room for ownership and a different approach. With extreme sports, despite its niche nature, the opportunities are infinite and the fans endlessly supportive, grateful and loyal.