Reebok deal blazes new trails
By TERRY JONES, EDMONTON SUN
When Eskimos Chief Operating Officer Rick LeLacheur made the announcement of the deal prior to the season, it sounded like the usual yada, yada yada stuff you say when you sign up a new corporate partner. "The Edmonton Eskimos are very proud to partner with a world-class company such as Reebok. It takes our team and our league to a new level,'' he said.
Not news then. But it's becoming news now.
There aren't many areas where the Eskimos are up statistically this season. But this is one. Only a half-season into the five-year multi-million-dollar partnership with Reebok, sales of hats, jerseys, t-shirts and other merchandise tied to the deal are up a remarkable one-third.
Eskimos marketing manager Dave Jamieson says the team and the league are thrilled with the early effects of the partnership with the worldwide designer, marketer and distributor of sports apparel.
"It's huge in terms of money and image.
"Out of the gate, the partnership has already proven to have helped us take a major step forward. More people are wearing items featuring our logo and they're of all age groups and genders.
"Anybody can make a jersey but Reebok adds a promotional clout.
"What they do in the marketplace is what makes the big difference. They promote it to say: 'This stuff is hot and you're going to want to wear it.'
"That's why they're the industry leader,'' he says of the corporation which also has partnership deals with the NFL and NBA.
Having an agreement with the NFL didn't hurt in putting the deal together with Reebok.
It was back in December of 2000 that Reebok and the NFL announced the formation of an exclusive partnership that was trumpeted to be the foundation of the NFL's restructured consumer products business.
The NFL granted a 10-year exclusive licence to Reebok to manufacture, market and sell NFL-licenced merchandise for all 32 teams. Like the new CFL deal, the licence includes on-field uniforms, practice apparel and a league brand.
A year later, Reebok formed a 10-year partnership with the National Basketball Association.
The CFL is not exactly making a great gamble with their partnership. Reebok partnering with teams and leagues in the NFL and NBA already has a proven track record.
"Our sales are up considerably and I think we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg,'' said Jamieson.
"It's a better-looking product, it's delivered when we need it, and they're very good at what they do.''
From the Reebok end, Micki Rivers was explaining it during a spare moment at the Athens Olympics where the company had a huge presence despite not being an official sponsor.
"The whole thing is a legacy of the NFL and NBA and three years of dealing with their fan base and putting together a team of designers. We had a straight path to work on.
"So far, we've found the CFL to be doing a great job stressing the importance of the deal, coaches wearing product on the sidelines and players at public appearances.
"Positioning the product is a key. We project not just the authenticity but the product's fashion legs as well. We do a lot of promotion in-store and on TV and when there are significant dollars involved, the stores are going to push it.''
Rivers, who is no relation or is even of the same gender as former New York Yankees' Mickey Rivers, says Reebok has been absolutely delighted with the first phase of the project.
"We had high expectations. It has exceeded our expectations and we're only half-way there. We haven't even got to our Grey Cup line yet. It may be an unbelievable year.''
The bottom line is creating an effect when the stadium is full of fans wearing jerseys or showing their colours by dressing in other paraphernalia and having people of all ages wearing the logo during their daily lives. The world of sport is a rare place where people pay not only to advertise your product but by wearing the sweaters and other items, in effect, individually endorse the product.
If the coolest kid in school is wearing an Eskimo jersey, there's a lot more benefit than a few dollars in the till. It translates to tickets and - on a much larger scale - long-term season ticket holders.
"It's a partnership to take our team and our league to a new level,'' LeLacheur repeats.