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New Balance on a high | Comrades Marathon Expo predictions exceeded | Cricket SA sponsorship
July 2015

New Balance on a high

With consumer interest that exceeded all predictions at this year’s Comrades Marathon Expo and great expectations for the brand loyalty the Cricket SA sponsorship will create, New Balance SA is riding a high wave

Back in the office after a frenetic fortnight as official technical sponsors of the Comrades marathon, followed by the announcement of the brand’s partnership with Cricket South Africa, New Balance SA’s country manager Craig Bowen and marketing manager Katharine Tromp are still on a high.

“It completely blew us away in terms of results,” Tromp describes their involvement in this year’s Comrades Marathon Expo, for which they had set themselves very high targets.

Early numbers show that they exceeded last year’s budget with double digits and that there had been solid growth across all categories.

These benefits for the brand are, however, not limited to the period immediately before, and after, the event. The Comrades 890 shoe has been in the market since April, when the “I Comrades” campaign, featuring videos of ordinary South Africans talking about how the event affected their lives, was launched.

With the 90-years Comrades logo and leopard print design to link Africa’s ‘big five’ to the Comrades ‘big five’ hills, this ultralight shoe has become a collector’s item for many runners who buy it as a keepsake. “One international guy bought six pairs at the Expo to take back home,” says Tromp. “The response has been quite phenomenal.”

Many did, however, run in the Comrades 890, or in other New Balance technical running shoes. “New Balance is the only brand that actually grew in the Comrades shoe count,” she says.

On the first day, more than 6 500 people passed through their stand, on day two they had 12 500 and on day three there were just under 6 000 visitors. With 19 000 runners actually registering for the race, it is clear that several non-runners came to experience their brand as well. According the Comrades Expo organisers over 51 000 people visited over the three days.

Technical apparel cooking

There was significant interest in the technical apparel on the stand, especially the official Comrades t-shirts, which sold as fast as they could unpack. “On lunch time of day three there were hardly any tees left,” says Bowen. But that didn’t stop visitors from buying other Comrades-branded product like towels, etc.

The fact that the technical apparel with the actual Comrades logo were selling out even though they had much more stock than the previous years, should now benefit their retail partners: the popular silhouettes are also available in-store without the Comrades logo, which should appeal to the customers who enjoyed the technical benefits of their official event apparel, and want to buy more.

“We’ve seen a good uptake of New Balance apparel in wholesale,” says Bowen. “I can only speculate that it has been as a result of our involvement in Comrades last year. The product is the best it’s ever been and the regional design centre has really been on point with things like colours, designs, etc. “

The brand has also experienced huge growth in wholesale technical shoe sales. Tromp attributes this to a “combination of being attached to a big brand like Comrades” and the digital conversations around their latest technologies and footwear launches that they have been promoting.

“New Balance is the most innovative running brand in the market,” says Bowen. Delivery of excellent product over the past few years, due to the brand’s spend on research and development of technologies like Fresh Foam, earned it the sobriquet of “the world’s innovators”, he maintains. New Balance has invested significantly in its Boston research and design centre so that it now “personifies an innovative philosophy of data to design” in styles like the Zante and Vazee (see p29).

Proteas help grow brand

The new sponsorship agreement with Cricket SA (CSA) to be the official apparel and footwear supplier for the next five years, while be one of the biggest New Balance sports marketing assets and is in alignment with one of the fundamental key pillars of the brand, says Bowen. The strategic alignment in sports like tennis, football and cricket is important to create an affinity between the consumer and the brand in general. “New Balance’s target consumer is the game changer athlete, the 15-17-year old kid who aspires to be like one of his heroes. He is typically in high school and active in a number of sporting codes.”

Cricket is the #1 summer sport for South African schoolboys and as several Sports Trader surveys have shown, cricket followers in that age group are brand conscious and very much aware of what their heroes play with and wear. The brand awareness of New Balance in the target age group will therefore be high, especially as Protea players will be making brand appearances as part of the contract. And as Bowen points out: cricketers also train, run and wear shoes off the field.

“The timing of the agreement (from 1 May 2015 – 30 April 2020) is fortuitous,” says Bowen, because they had allowed the agreements with regional teams like the Dolphins, Knights and Cobras to expire shortly before their negotiations with CSA began.

But, apart from building brand awareness and loyalty amongst an important target market, an agreement of this magnitude is underpinned by a solid business plan - which projects that year one will already be profitable, says Bowen.

Their cricket shoe, worn by the likes of Dales Steyn and David Miller, has done very well for them in terms of market share. “We also grew tremendously in equipment and have exceeded our budget in the first couple of months this year. Fortunately, New Balance have learnt some lessons through our involvement with other replica sales in South Africa, which will be applied to building the CSA asset.”

The investment CSA has made in, for example, the Protea Fire campaign and online marketing will make their task easier, he believes. “They are committed to taking the game to the average person and making it accessible to all. They are taking it to all corners of the country, and for us that fits in with our philosophy.”

Apart from being the exclusive official apparel supplier of team kit and products to CSA, its teams, staff and players, and being CSA’s official merchandising partner, New Balance will also provide equipment to CSA’s development programmes. As part of the contract they will also support the cricket programme at the hpc of Excellence in Pretoria with equipment etc. They are especially proud of the fact that they are the first New Balance office to form a partnership with a top national cricket association.

Due to their involvement with the Comrades and Proteas “people are seeing New Balance as it’s never been seen before,” says Bowen. “The Facebook and CSA page comments really warm the heart ... there are some good comments coming through.”

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