In today’s challenging economy, brands have become more discerning with athlete endorsements than ever before. There is a constant question as to whether both sides are getting the biggest return on the time and money invested in a partnership, and could those dollars be invested elsewhere. Many a brand manager spends very late nights wondering if their endorser understands the value or the goals of the campaign, and are those big names celebrities truly committed to growing the company, or are they just along for a quick, and often lucrative dollar.
One way to ensure buy-in from that spokesperson is to do the homework and then make sure the person is involved in the decision process for how the brand is brought to market. Some CPG companies or energy drinks, even some video game companies have gone to great lengths not just to get celebrities to sign on to push the product, but to make sure that those endorsers are ingrained in the decision-making. Sometimes, it involves an upside of sales, sometimes it involves equity, sometimes pride of ownership, sometimes a little of all.
One of the companies big on buy in is MISSION Athletecare. The New York based company has built a line of products, and a reputation, and bringing athletes in early to help develop their lines of skin care, muscle care, foot care, grip enhancements, anti-chafe, sun care and others items. The result is a cadre of high level athletes, from Mia Hamm and Serena Williams to Dwayne Wade, Sergio Garcia and David Wright, who are invested in not just endorsing, but using the products during their competition. That buy is such a key component, because MISSION’s products are all about the sell to the athlete, whether they are professional or amateur. If the grip doesn’t work, no one uses. No one uses, no buzz, no sale, no ROI no business.
It is brand management at its best, and it has translated into a fast-growing consumer business with a simple concept…provide the best in class for the athletes in a niche category, and the consumer will follow.
This week MISSION added their latest partner, Orlando Magic All-Star Dwight Howard to the mix. We caught up with CEO Josh Shaw to ask him about how MISSION works, and what it’s like to work with such high level stars in the sale and the development.
Dwight Howard is the latest big name endorser for Mission. How will his role be different from the others?
Dwight is a big addition to our team – for Mission Athletecare broadly, and even more specifically within our Mission Basketball team. He brings a unique perspective from his position on the court as a big man – and even more broadly as symbol of high performance. Everyone knows he’s one of the most physically fit athletes on the planet, and his insights and feedback on performance and fitness will be key to our product innovation process – as well as new categories for product exploration.
Do your athletes have a say in development? If so how hands on are they?
Our athletes have a big say in the development of products. They weigh in on all stages of the development process from the initial ideation to the field -testing to in-market launch programs. They define our Athlete-Engineered™ process.
The court grip products are doing very well, how is the baseball product doing as a pine tar replacement?
The Court Grip product has been a phenomenal success, and it’s a true testament to the innovation it represents, and more specifically, the pervasiveness of the problem it solves for indoor athletes challenged by court-slippage. The Power Grip, which is our liquid-chalk technology, is one of our most popular products in our portfolio – primarily because of the versatility of the formula and its appeal to a broad range of athletes and sports. Whether it’s Carmelo Anthony in Basketball, Serena in Tennis, Sergio in Golf or David Wright in Baseball – having a dry grip on the ball, the bat, the racquet or the club is critical to performance.
What has been the biggest surprise in working with elite athletes from a brand standpoint?
At the onset, I was surprised by how involved the athletes wanted to be in the business and more specifically in the innovation process. After getting to know the athletes on a more personal level – it’s actually not a surprise at all. Our athletes are champions for a reason – and each and every one of them is equally if not more of a champion off the field of play. Thus, it’s really no surprise that when they get into something, they get into it in a real, authentic and thoughtful way. They’re all in by nature.
Is there ever a worry of competitive jealousy with which athlete is getting the most say?
No concerns for us here at all – our athletes are partners, and when one wins at MISSION, everyone wins.
How valuable is their word of mouth in getting the product sold to the consumer?
As the most elite athletes in the world, their stamp of approval on the product is critical for us – but the consumer doesn’t get to see the development process, so having the athletes use the products in action speaks volumes to our focus on performance and efficacy. If it works for Dwyane Wade at his level of play or Serena at her level of play – you know it works for athletes everywhere.
What percentage of NBA players are now using one of your products organically? How much has your market share grown the past year?
Based on anecdotal feedback, I’d guess somewhere in the range of 25% – 30% of the NBA players are using one or more of our products on a regular basis.
Have you looked at expansion into the youth market for endorsements as well as the NBA and other professional organizations?
We’re working on our NBA, NBATA and MLB endorsements for now – but we’ll likely turn our attention to new opportunities later this year and next year
When do you expect the next product launch and will it be into a new area or continued refinement of what you are doing now?
Our next launch is coming this summer – and will be a true “game-changer”. Like Court Grip, it’s a real innovation solving real problems affecting athletes – at all levels of sport.