Sponsors come and go, so normally when a brand pulls out of an event it isn’t a huge deal.
Not only had the outdoor footwear brand been at the heart of the event for the past 11 years — it was, after all, called the Teva Mountain Games — an even deeper connection came with Teva President Joel Heath founding the event in 2002.
Heath sold the games to the Vail Valley Foundation in 2008, so perhaps the writing was on the wall, but the event continues to draw higher attendance figures including more than 2,500 competitors and about 40,000 spectators last summer. And, together with the Vail Valley Foundation, Teva helped launch the first Winter Mountain Games a year ago.
Organizers promote the Mountain Games as the “nation’s largest celebration of adventure sports, lifestyle and music featuring top professional and amateur athletes from around the world.” The summer show includes competitions in kayaking, mountain biking, bouldering and trail running with more than $100,000 in prize money.
So why pull out from such a successful event? Heath told SNEWS the decision was a marketing one, signifying a larger shift in the brand’s strategy to reach more consumers.
“Teva doesn’t have a brand awareness problem anymore, which is largely what you get from sponsoring an event like this … people know Teva,” Heath said. “We need to focus more on product — letting people know we make more than sandals — with a campaign that is more year-round and global, as opposed to a regional event.”
The decision wasn’t for a lack of funding, he added, noting that Teva will increase its marketing budget by 40 percent during the next few years. Those advertising dollars are heading where so many others are going these days — online.
“The landscape has changed,” Heath said. “Digital communities are the new medium.”
The above might sound contradictory coming from an outdoor brand, but Heath said the reality is that Teva must go where its customers eyes are.
“When I founded the Mountain Games, I said Teva was going to bring the masses to mountains,” he said. “Now, we’re looking to bring the mountains to the masses.”
Heath said Teva can reach millions, rather than thousands, through digital campaigns showing its athletes outdoors on adventures all over the world. But does a video, or Facebook post drive a kid to get off the couch?
Heath said Teva is still working on the specifics of the campagin, but the key drivers to spur consumers outdoors will focus on at least two aspects — humanizing the experiences and being more inclusive rather than exclusive.
“When you get to know an individual, like our athletes, beyond just their great skills outdoors, you can relate to that person on other levels, then there’s a connection. They become an inspiration.” Once a connection is made, Heath said its Teva’s goal to drive consumers outdoors no matter what they choose to do.
“We have to make the outdoors accessible, whether it’s an outing in Central Park or a hike deep into the woods.”
All the marketing talk aside, there may have been some differences in corporate direction, control and cost between Vail Valley and Teva’s owner Deckers Outdoor. Negotiations were ongoing. After first confirming its departure from the Winter Mountain Games on Monday, there was talk that Teva might still title sponsor the Summer Games. Then Wednesday, Heath announced Teva was out for the summer as well.
It was no doubt a tough decision. Heath told SNEWS he mortgaged his home in the early years to keep the event going.
Moving ahead, Vail Valley officials said they are looking for a new title sponsor for the Mountain Games. The upcoming Winter Mountain Games, Feb. 8-10, 2013, has no title sponsor as of now, but will continue to be presented by Eddie Bauer. The winter event includes competitions in Nordic skiing, ice climbing, snowshoe racing, snow biking, ski mountaineering and more.
“Based on the success of last winter’s Mountain Games, we are committed to continuing with the event,” said Vail Valley’s Michael Imhof in a statement. “This is an event that we believe in and one that showcases an element of winter sports that is not often seen by the public.”
Anyone can register to compete in the events.