Reality TV sponsorships pump up fitness brands

Fitness companies that sponsor reality TV shows realize nice rewards, but they don’t measure their return on investment in dollars and cents. Rather, they say the real benefit is increased brand recognition and the opportunity to reach a broad audience.
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Conventional wisdom says it doesn’t pay to be seen with losers -- except when you’re dealing with reality television. Fitness companies are jumping at the chance to showcase their products on reality TV shows that follow some big-time losers -- that is, people striving to lose weight.

In June, Cybex (www.cybexintl.com) announced that it signed a multi-year deal to be the official fitness equipment partner of NBC’s hit show “The Biggest Loser,” while companies such as Star Trac, GoFit and Everlast have also enjoyed partnerships with reality TV shows.

While a TV partnership can increase product sales, these companies do not necessarily look to hard numbers on a profit-and-loss sheet to determine their return on investment. Rather, they see reality television as an effective medium to educate people about their brand, broaden their consumer base and also make viewers more familiar with particular products.

A branding exercise

Larry Gulko, chief marketing officer for Cybex, told SNEWS® that “The Biggest Loser” deal would primarily help convey the values of the Cybex brand.

“The reason ‘The Biggest Loser’ is so significant to us is that the show has made a genuine commitment over the last nine seasons to really change lives and promote health and wellness, and their mission aligns with what Cybex stands for,” said Gulko. “So, if you look at our ROI, this partnership will really enable Cybex to be looked at as having the same philosophy of making a difference in someone’s life.”

When GoFit (gofit.net) began providing equipment and prize packages for the show “Celebrity Fit Club” in 2006, the company realized that it benefited most from the positive public relations.

“It’s hard to know the real dollars generated, but the biggest thing is the PR,” Paul Goldberg, vice president of sales for GoFit, told SNEWS. He said GoFit realized that the real value was in having its products associated with well-known, respected trainers. “Regardless of the tangible return on investment, with the costs of advertising these days, we’re firm believers that credible placement is a great value. We’re looking for people who are legitimately talented, and not just looking to throw product out there. In the right environment, I think it’s a very valuable opportunity.”

According to Goldberg, GoFit is working on a new deal with a reality TV show, and although the company was not yet ready to announce the details, he said that reality TV will continue to be an important element in the company’s marketing strategy.

“It is very much a part of our long-term product development and marketing plan to align strategically with high-profile people that are TV-related,” he said.

A broader audience

Of course, the most tangible benefit of partnering with a reality TV show is that a company’s products appear before a huge audience, and a piece of equipment can quickly become top-of-mind for consumers.

In 2008, Star Trac (www.startrac.com) signed on to provide “The Biggest Loser” with fitness equipment, and in 2009, the company was listed in the Nielsen “Top 10 Brands With TV Product Placement.”

In 2005 and 2006, Everlast (www.everlast.com) saw its equipment gain greater recognition while serving as a major sponsor and product supplier for the boxing reality show, “The Contender.” In 2005, following the first season of the show, Everlast chairman and CEO George Horowitz said in a statement, “The first season of ‘The Contender’ yielded great product placement and brand awareness benefits for Everlast. In addition to enhancing our brand awareness and stature, our initial association with the show generated considerable excitement among both consumers and retailers.”

Cybex is banking on the notion that it, too, will see big dividends as its products appear before a large, worldwide TV audience.

“Every Tuesday night, 12 million people watch ‘The Biggest Loser,’ which is broadcast in 90 countries,” said Gulko. He noted that the show attracts a wide variety of people, from Wall Street traders to fitness club owners, to people in the military, and college students. “It will enhance our brand equity in numerous market sectors,” said Gulko, adding that the show will also introduce Cybex to people who have never purchased products from the company before. “For the people considering Cybex for the first time, this will give them some security in buying our products,” he added.

Goldberg of GoFit noted that a company’s return on investment is partly determined by the amount of face time products get on a show. “We were featured in maybe a couple of segments over the 13-week season (of the “Celebrity Fit Club”). And then the product was shown in a prize package for 30 seconds in one episode. So our exposure was pretty minimal,” he said. Still, he noted, it was valuable exposure. And companies that get even more screen time can really see great returns.

“I would think that, for Everlast, being on a show like ‘The Contender’ was a monstrous program for them, because they were front-and-center every episode on a long-term show,” Goldberg said.

Educating the public

While a TV show can raise the profile of a brand, it can also provide a forum to familiarize consumers with particular products. Gulko said “The Biggest Loser” would help educate consumers about the company’s new Arc Trainer. As part of its deal with the show, Cybex will market equipment carrying “The Biggest Loser” brand name, and the first product will be the Arc Trainer, which will be available in conjunction with the airing of the first new episode on Sept. 21.

Gulko said that fitness trainers on “The Biggest Loser” would explain to show participants how the Arc Trainer burns calories quickly and efficiently. “When you see the trainers on the show telling the contestants that the Arc will provide the fastest way to burn calories, it will speak volumes in terms of Cybex’s innovation, quality and breakthrough technology,” said Gulko. “Multiply that by 12 million people in 90 countries, and it will be quite a compelling business story and product story.”

While Gulko said it’s difficult for a fitness company to calculate the value of a TV deal in dollars and cents, he said he expects “The Biggest Loser” to deliver tangible benefits, noting, “It’s going to have a huge impact on our bottom line.”

--Marcus Woolf

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