Sponsoring the Ironman Triathlon Makes A Lot of Sense...and Cents...For Subaru

By Paul Birdwell (paul@roaringforkagency.com)

There is a very good reason that companies choose to sponsor specific events or types of sports competitions and David Booth of Post Media News details vehicle-maker Subaru’s long-time involvement with triathlons and the Ironman series:

Sponsoring Ironman makes cents for Subaru, David Both, Post Media News


“And, as long as I was thinking along these lines, why does a company like Subaru, a small, niche player in the automotive marketplace, sponsor Ironman races, anyway? Why does any automobile company sponsor any sporting activity? Are they not but vanities, the entire project inevitably an example of one highly placed executive having a penchant for a particular sport and a corporate bankroll to finance it with?

The fact that Subaru Canada's national marketing manager, Geoff Craig, has a thing for marathons and all the bone-battering masochism involved (get better soon, Geoff) only reinforced my gut impression. It was only when I found out that it was a previous employee, Brian Hyland — much missed but, how shall will I say this politely, hardly athletic — who initiated the association that the concept of the company's corporate sponsorship became interesting. Indeed, Craig says, the entire triathlon sponsorship process started more than 20 years ago because it made sense.

And by sense, he meant cents. Two decades previous, triathlon was a budding sport and Subaru's support cost the company a mere pittance. Even today, it only costs Subaru Canada less than $5-million, says Tod Sullivan, Subaru's director of fleet sales (and manager of all sponsorship), a pittance compared to the US$3-billion corporations spend on sponsorships in North America alone.

And because triathlon remains a niche part of the sporting world, it makes Subaru's participation especially cost-effective. Besides being the titular sponsor for the Whistler and Mont Tremblant races (both qualifying events for the famed Hawaii Triathlon), it gets naming rights on two other Ironman races and is also the chief sponsor of grassroots provincial triathlon associations throughout the land. Five million smackeroos would seem to buy you effective reach if you choose the right sport.”

Subaru sponsoring the Ironman triathlons does indeed make perfect sense because it associates and aligns the Subaru brand with a sport that exudes strength and being fit which many people in the market for Subaru vehicles that enjoy getting into the great outdoors identify with in a very personal way.  

Besides the brand building that the Subaru’s association with Ironman creates it also sells cars both to the participants in the triathlon events and also to the people attending the races that get to see the Subaru vehicles up close and personal as detailed by David Booth in his story:

“And the Ironman association is effective. Every year, between 1,000 and 1,500 athletes take advantage of a special rebate of $750 to buy a new Subaru, a phenomenal take up rate considering that there are only 30,000 competitors registered for the triathlons and Subaru Canada only sells about 30,000 cars a year. For the Ironman weekend, Whistler Village is transformed into a Subaru love-in, it being impossible to walk anywhere in the Village without running into a Forester, Impreza or Outback display vehicle, a Subaru flag or, for that matter, some form of Sube, resplendent with bike/canoe/kayak carrier, in the parking lots. And, on race day, the adulation only gets more sincere with the loudspeakers endlessly thanking Subaru for being the sport's one and truly loyal sponsor. Indeed, one gets the impression that Subaru is to triathlon what Absolut Vodka is to the LGBT crowd, an early adopter who recognized their community as worth marketing to long before it became trendy.”

Now that is how an event and company working together build a brand and do successful sponsorship!


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