It’s official. On the afternoon of Wednesday, February 6 a deal was inked between Vans and IMG, the owners of the US Open of Surfing, ushering in the dawn of the Vans US Open of Surfing. The deal will see Vans take over Huntington Beach each summer for at least the next three years marking a new era for the Open following Nike’s September announcement that it was severing ties with the event, which has been around in various forms since 1959.
We caught up with IMG Senior Vice President – Director of Action Sports James Leitz and Vans VP of Global Marketing Doug Palladini to learn more about the deal’s specifics and get a better idea about the future of the “Super Bowl of Action Sports,” a future that’s looking a lot more inclusive for endemic brands and action sports fans and athletes alike.
Congratulations on finalizing this deal. It’s been a little over four months since Nike’s brands pulled out of the US Open. Tell us a little about what has been going on behind the scenes during that time.
James Leitz: The US Open of Surfing is a year round endeavor: sponsorship, media, sanctioning, venue issues… you name it. Obviously, finding a new title sponsor has been critical and a key focus for the group. We were fortunate to have engaged Vans very early on in the process and continued to find a lot of synergy between the brand and the event as we crafted the deal.
Why did Vans feel this would be a good partnership for the brand and why was the timing right?
Doug Palladini: The Vans US Open of Surfing gives us the opportunity to bring our entire brand to life in our own backyard. We first opened our doors in 1966 just 20 some-odd miles from the HB Pier: It’s difficult to pass up a chance like that. In addition, event owner IMG has been a trusted Vans partner for the past 15 years and we consider their action sports team part of the Vans family already. It just makes sense.
James, when we spoke back in September, you said that you like change and were excited for the opportunities that this could present. What are you most excited about in working with Vans and for this summer’s Open?
JL: Vans is a tight organization with a lot of talented and experienced people. They know where they are going and what they want to do with the event. That vision has been crystal clear from the first meeting with Doug.
What specifics can you share about the deal’s structure at this point? How long’s it for? What exactly will Vans be providing?
JL: The Agreement with Vans is for three years with an option. You can expect to see the integration of many of Vans' event brands and assets, athletes, and programs to elevate the US Open experience. The focus will be on action sports, music, art and street culture.
How will Vans put its stamp on the event and what newness can we expect from this summer’s Open.
DP: Our motto for the Vans US Open is “bringing the industry back” because we choose to be a leader by welcoming everyone into our tent, as we do at the East Coast Surfing Championships in Virginia Beach, for example. The US Open opportunity is too great for surfing and skateboarding to keep our peer brands locked out.
I’d also like to think that we can add variety and a more eclectic feel to the event; not so monolithic. We also want to welcome families, including local residents, to come back to the beach July 20-28. Finally, we have shared a vision with IMG to add B2B and other surrounding activations so that the two weeks are must-attend for every fan, brand, retailer ,and athlete connected to surf and skate.
What role can other endemic and non-endemic brands play in the Open under the agreement?
JL: From the outset, Vans has stated that they want to "bring the industry back" to the beach. Vans wants to be inclusive. We have been working tirelessly on specific strategies. The surf industry could use a shot in the arm and we think that some of the ideas we are developing may do just that. I cannot go into detail now, but we are preparing to announce something cool very soon. I promise you will be the first to know…
IMG and Vans recently signed a content distribution deal. Was the Open sponsorship already in play at that point?
JL: The US Open sponsorship was already in play prior to the content distribution deal. Frankly, this couldn't have worked out better. IMG is a very large international organization and to bring to bare all of IMG's resources will further elevate the event and Vans on a global scale.
The details of that deal were fairly vague. What opportunities do you see to cross leverage these partnerships going forward?
JL: IMG Media has a huge footprint and distributes the largest library of sports content worldwide. Vans has the content and the US Open is a strong brand, a great story, and added content to populate the massive IMG distribution pipeline for Vans.
How deep in the planning are you for this summer’s event? What do you see changing as far as the format and ancillary events?
JL: We are committed to keeping the highest quality of surfing alive and well in Huntington Beach. Skateboarding is another focus. You will definitely see a continued emphasis on live music, art installations, and cultural elements that are distinctively Vans.
There's a lot of planning ahead. It's too early to say what ideas, concepts and epiphanies come out of our planning meetings. But, that's the fun part. Change has presented a blank canvas and a new brand with the energy to envision a new US open of Surfing.
What has the response been about this agreement in talks with the city of HB?
JL: The US Open of Surfing generates a lot of economic impact for the City. Vans also has deep roots in Huntington Beach, in addition to the new Vans Skatepark under construction. The City is excited and fully-supportive of the event.
What’s next as far as planning now that this deal is finalized?
JL: The answer to that question is a study in sports marketing. Fundamentals before finesse, I always say. Let's get the foundation built and the strategy right, and we go from there.
What were the biggest lessons you learned through this process?
JL: Enjoy the ride. If you get knocked down, get up quickly. There will always be highs and lows in this business, but if you value and cultivate your relationships, good things tend to happen. The Vans US Open of Suring is proof positive.