This week, the US Open of Snowboarding is taking place in Vail, marking the first time the 30-year old event has taken place outside Vermont, and building a much brighter spotlight for the event on one of the world’s largest ski and snowboard stages. The Open is also taking place in the midst of a tough economy that has seen a number of large contests shuddered, and a media landscape where exaggerated stories about the state of snowboarding have sent some sponsors packing.
Considering the current environment, we decided to reach out to the people writing the checks for one of snowboarding’s biggest annual events, The Burton US Open of Snowboarding, and caught up with executives from Burton, Mini, Nokia, Mountain Dew, and Paul Mitchell to learn why and how snowboarding is a crucial part of their marketing strategies and get an outside perspective on the state of the sport.
Take a look back at the 30th Burton US Open:
Putting on major contests like this isn’t possible without non-endemic dollars these days. Tell us your philosophy on working with these sponsors to ensure that they make sense and align with the vision of the contest and as far as ROI for the sponsors?
Nick Sargent, Burton Snowboards, Global Director of Strategic Alliance: The companies we collaborate with are partners of the Burton brand first. We use events as a way to grow and build awareness around each relationship. We have a few sponsors who are event-specific, but overall we look to create brand partnerships as a way to extend each relationship to relevant actions that make sense for each party. Fortunately, Burton is a strong, privately held company and this gives us the ability to work with cool brands that have similar characteristics and company DNA to us. By aligning our brands together, we’re able to create authentic and meaningful activations that drive ROI for our partners.
How helpful was the change in venue to Vail in securing sponsorships and the depth of partnerships that you received?
N. Sargent, Burton: The venue change gives Burton the ability to talk with a new crowd and breathe some freshness into the event. Working with Vail, a premium western resort and arguably one of the top resorts in North America, has created additional interest for the US Open. And having the ability to grow our TV and web broadcast package, along with marketing to the number one winter sport region in the US, has been a big benefit in growing partnerships for the US Open and ultimately creating further interest in snowboarding.
What results have you seen from sponsoring Burton events? What makes this a unique opportunity for your brand?
Tom Salkowsky, head of MINI Marketing: Our global partnership is not only a terrific brand fit (premium like minded brands with an irreverent edge) but it positions MINI in front of a new target audience; even more outdoors and youthful than our already young owner group. Partnering with Burton also serves as an ideal venue to communicate the virtues of our brand to consumers who appreciate uniqueness, customization and being part of a community – all integral aspects of MINI. More tactically, we introduced a four-door MINI Countryman and the all new MINI Paceman, both with our ALL4 all wheel drive so snow conditions are perfect venues to demonstrate that.
Partnering with an iconic brand like Burton is important as we engage in partnerships such as this quite infrequently – so when we participate it needs to make an impact. Our partnership with Burton is alive during the US Open with MINIs on display, shuttle services for the athletes but frankly this ends up being only one chapter of the story. Our communication of the partnership extends into every one of the 115 MINI dealerships in the US with point of sale materials, snow covered MINIs on the showroom, and we even created benches made from two Burton snowboards to communicate our partnership in a premium manner inside the dealership environment.
Stuart Wells, Nokia Global Marketing Partnerships: We view Burton as a ‘360 degree’ partner, so it’s important that we work closely with the team at Burton. The relationship has extended successfully from marketing innovation projects to app development, event sponsorship and, more recently, product development. Snowboarding is by its very nature a creative sport. We believe that the role of a product like the new Nokia Lumia 920 is to enable snowboarders, and other mountain sports enthusiasts, to capture and share the beauty of their surroundings, and the creativity of their skills on a device that not only looks great but performs brilliantly too.
Julie Solwold, Vice President, Sports Marketing, John Paul Mitchell Systems: Sponsorships of high profile snowboard events like the Burton US Open are critical components to our marketing message. They align with a sport that is about style, creativity and freedom of expression. We believe that everyone is an artist – they just use different canvases. Supporting these events and actively participating on site allows us to have a direct and meaningful relationship with our customer in an arena where everyone is having a great time.
If anything, it has become more important to us, as the advertising/social media landscape has been so flooded with messaging that the only thing that remains authentic and credible is an event you can actually tough, feel, experience and enjoy.
Erica, how important is the sponsorship of snowboard events such as the Dew Tour and the US Open to Mountain Dew’s marketing message? Has that changed at all in the last couple years?
Erica Zimmerman, Director of Sports Marketing for Pepsi: Mountain Dew has been supporting events in the action sports space for more than 20 years. Creating and supporting events like the Dew Tour and Burton US Open showcase our commitment to the athletes, the industry and to the progression of the sports. Times change, but Mountain Dew’s commitment to snowboarding remains a top priority for us.
Why do you feel the snowboard market is a strong, viable option to get your message out there?
Wells, Nokia: Nokia has supported snowboarding in some way or other for a long time. We’re committed for a number of reasons. From a primarily commercial perspective, the sport punches well above its weight in terms of broadcast ratings and the profile of the TV audience closely matches our target audience, whether committed riders or casual viewers. Over and above that, snowboarding provides us with the perfect environment in which to demonstrate our latest products; for example the super steady, broadcast quality footage that the Lumia 920 produces is integrated into the TV programming in the Burton Open Event Series programming.
Salkowsky, MINI: A core aspect of MINI is the ability to customize (we call it you-ification) your MINI over 10 million different ways. We feel that snowboarding is a sport driven by individuals who also choose their own path, and express their individuality and personality through their gear, their look and their skills in competition. Like snowboarders, every MINI you see has a unique personality; each MINI tells a story. The snowboarding community also seems to embrace that idea of pushing against convention – this is something at MINI we relish.
How do you work with your sponsors to provide unique activations that will feel authentic and resonate with attendees and viewers?
N. Sargent, Burton: Maintaining Burton and partner integrity is number one with all our event activations globally. We listen to our partners’ strategy and activation needs, and work with them to layout an activation that fits the overall event direction and goals. If you don’t listen and work with your partners, you’ll find yourself with activations that don’t fit the demographic, sport, or attendees. Burton has a fantastic creative team that helps to guide our partners’ activations and comes up with options which complement their individual needs.
How important is it to come up with a unique activation for events like this and what factors are most important in them?
Salkowsky, MINI: In general MINI is not a brand that partners with many other brands. We remain very selective about who we partner with – the fit needs to be authentic and natural. MINI and Burton – it’s an organic connection. So while onsite at events the MINI integration needs to remain informal and relaxed. We believe this is critical for our brand to remain genuine to our roots but also to assimilate to the culture of the snowboarding community.
Wells, Nokia: It’s hugely important to us that we activate in a way that’s in keeping with the spirit of the sport and yet aligned to our marketing objectives. The real focus for us is to get the most out of our social media channels – so the challenge is to produce an activation that can live outside of the event; rewarding both on the ground but also in the digital world.
Did the recent articles about snowboarding plateauing come up in your discussions with non-endemic sponsors?
N. Sargent, Burton: No, it hasn’t. Fortunately, our partners understand the Burton brand, the sport of snowboarding, and participants, and have the ability to come up with their own conclusions.
Where do you see the snowboard market heading?
Solwold, Paul Mitchell: Pretty much anywhere it wants! It’s still a very powerful market, and will continue to grow as it trickles through more and more generations. It’s a multi-generational family activity now, no longer just for kids. Its meteoric growth may have slowed, but its reach just keeps getting bigger and broader.
Erica, how is the sustainability message resonating in the snowboard community?
Zimmerman, Mountain Dew: Sustainability is key to snowboarding – without a healthy environment, the beautiful snow covered mountains the snowboard community seeks will no longer exist. Today more than ever before, consumers are interested in what industry leaders are doing to make sustainability a reality which is why Mountain Dew and Burton partnered on the GMP program. The GMP product that we have created not only uses fabrics made from recycled bottles, but also meets BlueSign standards creating an even deeper sustainability story.
We feel consumers will continue to be interested in sustainability in their gear – more than ever riders want to leave as small a footprint on the environment as they can. Consumers today are savvy enough to know that begins with them, which is why we’re so excited about our partnership with Burton and the Green Mountain Process program.
Tom, tell us a little about the Feature Award and Media Award you guys are doing.
Salkowsky, MINI: For the second consecutive year, MINI is bringing back the MINI Feature Award, a competition between the slopestyle course designers for the Burton European Open in Laax and the Burton US Open in Vail. The award gives $5,000 to the crew that builds the most creative slopestyle feature that includes a MINI in the design. In Laax, the slopestyle shape crew led by Roger Heid created a pole jam hit into an 18-foot halfpipe that featured a MINI in the background. During the Burton US Open next week at Vail, Snow Park Technologies will do their best to win the MINI Feature Award with their own creative slopestyle feature. The final winner of the MINI Feature Award will be announced at the end of March.
MINI is also inviting US and European endemic publications to enter the MINI Media Awards, a new competition that awards creativity in snowboard journalism. Built around the spirit of the Burton European Open and US Open Snowboarding Championships presented by MINI, the all new MINI Media Award allows select snowboard publications to submit one original article and up to five corresponding photographs that showcase creative snowboard writing and imagery. Story possibilities are endless, including (but not limited to) a story about the US Open as a whole or one particular aspect of the Open (a rider, a trick, a run, the list goes on and on). Winners will be decided via public voting on www.MINISpace.com following the US Open Snowboarding Championships in Vail, Colorado.
Stuart, Tell us a little about the Rookie Award and the Nokia X Burton Creative competition you guys are doing.
Wells, Nokia: The Nokia Rookie Award recognizes up and coming talent in snowboarding. We created the award because every year the Burton Global Event Series (BGES) produces breakthrough riders who get their talent noticed but might not get onto the podium. We want to recognize these riders for their skill, attitude and potential as future winners. Selected by the US Open judges, we will name the male and female Rookies of the Year in both halfpipe and slopestyle contests at the US Open in Vail. The winners will walk away with a cash prize, a new phone and a higher profile. Last year’s winners were Ayumu Hirano and Arielle Gold, both of whom went on to podium at X Games and win at this year’s Burton European Open.
In the same vein as the Rookie Award, the Creative competition is aimed to find and celebrate creative enthusiasts from around the world. They were challenged to submit films, photographs or artwork inspired by the subculture and lifestyle of snowboarding, both on and off the slopes. The judges included the Burton photographers Blotto and Gabe and we had over 500 submissions. Two lucky winners are joining us at the US Open. They are tasked with documenting their journey through the lens of a Nokia Lumia 920. We can’t wait to see what they produce.
Nick, what are you most excited about in having the Open at Vail next week?
N. Sargent, Burton: We have a lot of people that are working very hard to produce the US Open in Vail next week. I’m really looking forward to having the gratification of solid teamwork, a roster of great partners and celebrating snowboarding. It’s going to be a great week of riding, contests, music, snowboarding lifestyle and fun. An extra bonus will be enjoying the amazing snow Vail has to offer. Get out and ride!