Monday, 18 March 2013
The Rise of the Footwear Sponsored Ultra Team.
Given the title it would be easier to start with some Salomon commentary. However, I want to take things back a little further than that. There is no doubt that some serious ultra historians can take it back further than me but from my little eyes 2008 saw a shift. A shift from the top Ultra Runner being more than just a ‘crazy nutter’ and starting to be viewed as a useful marketing tool- and I am not just talking about Dean Karnezes. More Scott Jurek. Brooks Running had an epiphany….if Scott Jurek can run hundreds of miles and wins a lot then surely that serves as proof that our shoes are amazing? If he can be comfortable whilst running for 2days in one shoe then surely anybody can be comfortable. This was a seriously influential strategy that really paid off for them. But deeper than that, it opened a door for Ultra Runners. The Green Silence was eventually released in feb 2010 and whilst this was going on New Balance had firmly set their sights on a similar concept. Anton Krupicka and Eric Skaggs had been working for the last year on the MT100/101 range which later evolved into 2 complete lines of shoes (minimus and MT).
At this point the brands were not thinking of creating a team but they had effectively taped into the idea that Ultra Runners can shift shoes as well, if not better, than any marathoner. Top Ultra runners started to be signed up by every brand and we witnessed the first brands to make shoes marketed specifically to Ultra Runners- Hoka, Scott, Technica etc. . Some brands started to sign many runners which created a team….except it wasn’t quite a team yet, it was just a list of different Ultra Runners which is no different to road running. Enter….Team Salomon
For me, they really have taken it to the next level and created a proper team. A team normally akin to cycling. Take away Kilian Jornet and I still feel confident enough to say that the Salomon evolution would have still happened. They provided their athletes with the budget and resources to truly compete, win and market them on a global scale. They started training weeks for their athletes, integrated them into the product creation of the S-lab range and made them feel part of something bigger….a family. If you call it good marketing then fine, I wouldn’t say your wrong but for Greg Vollet (who had a cycling background funnily enough) and his team it was pure fun and they were told of one mission….MAKE TRAIL RUNNING HUGE. They enlisted the services of filmmakers the AfricanAttachment to shoot videos of their races, training and athletes and they were told two things- 1. Don’t be exclusive to Salomon products in all videos as it’s bigger than that and 2. MAKE TRAIL RUNNING HUGE. For me the African Attachment are the ones that have created the Ultra Running boom, more so in Europe as I cant forget the influences of Mr. Benna in the states! Greg Vollet and his team have forced other brands to react. The North Face always had a star studded team but they had to do more than free gear. Pearl Izumi and Montrail are starting to provide the resources to their runners to get them into the big races. It’s a fascinating time to be around Ultra’s and to witness this team evolution but where does it go from here? As the financial benefits to brands for their runner to win a race increases so does the demands they will have to enforce. Each runner’s season will be mostly dictated by their sponsor and they will have to ‘fit in’ other races around this. The depth of the team will need to increase as more and more races grow their global visibility and prestige and therefore there are more races a brand needs to win. We will see more competitions with Team results, relays and races where multiple team members have to run the entire race together. The team that comes out on top and the brand that benefits the most will be the guys that have a true family culture and a true desire to support the sport in itself. If these elements are lost then the Ultra Community will swallow them up and spit them out. Becoming too corporate like, dare a say it, Nike will not work in Ultra Running. I love an environment where we can all openly discuss each other’s gear from different brands without being worried about losing our sponsorship deals. A sentiment that cant be said for elite level Road or Track running.
So what am I saying and what is the point of my post?
Ultimately I don’t mind this big brand influx to our sport as long as they keep it pure. Create content for us all to enjoy not just videos that focus on one specific piece of gear, which again, is something associated with track and road running. And keep it social and enjoyable, that’s our sport which means that’s your market….don’t lose sight of that. A blueprint has already been made with one brand to enormous success. Long may it continue…..otherwise I’ll take up tchoukball or something and do a Tchoukball player of the year awards 2014.