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Giving Professional Triathletes a "Fair Shot"

Posted: May 06 2015

On a fairly regular basis, we see posts from customers that really warm our hearts. The topics generally range from something to do with a very positive customer service experience to a nice comment about the gear. A recent tweet that commented about loving the seam-free chamois in our tri shorts ended with the hashtags “not a commercial” and “not sponsored”. We know what the tweeter (if that is what you call one who “tweets”) was trying to say. She was indicating that she didn't have any outside incentive (other than the service or the quality of the clothing) to say something nice.

Because of that, we felt compelled to share some insight into why we sponsor athletes and what we hope to achieve with our sponsorships. Now some of this is a bit nuanced (some might say rambling), so we’re going to break it into two blog posts but we hope it all makes sense.

In this post, we’d like to talk about our professional athletes. These are women who are trying to make a living by swimming, biking, and running. You could say that we sponsor these amazing ladies for marketing purposes and you would be correct. We definitely hope that potential customers consider buying Coeur because they saw someone they look up to and admire wearing our gear.

Katie Zaferes is one of our fantastic sponsored Professionals

That being said, we also sponsor them for another reason. You see, if all we wanted to do was maximize our marketing return on investment, we would do “gear only” deals where our sponsorship consists of free product only. That is fairly common in the industry and it allows companies to spread their message more broadly. Unfortunately, it’s hard for pros to pay the rent with free clothing, and that leads us to our “other” reason for sponsoring pros.

Few things in life bother us more than lost opportunities and we can only imagine what it must be like for someone to have the drive and the genetic ability to exceed in a sport, but not be able to afford to even really try. It seems to us that there are quite a few incredibly gifted women who could do well as triathletes if they had the ability to train (and as importantly “recover”) full time. Unfortunately, financial circumstances force them to work a full time job and then try to be a pro on the side. They expend precious time and energy at their “day job” and then squeeze in training and racing when time and money permits. Workouts are doubled up and time for proper recovery just doesn’t exist.  

We’d absolutely love to find a way to help these aspiring athletes afford to train and race full time. Now we know we can’t do it alone (at least not yet) but we do have an idea. As a philosophical point (and some would say a "symbolic" one), we currently include guaranteed cash in all of our pro contracts. Now due to the fact that we’re a young company, the cash isn’t huge but it is in addition to podium bonuses and free product. Still, we know that the money from Coeur alone isn’t going to allow anyone to quit their job and dive into full time training. But, what if every sponsor had a similar commitment that they would guarantee some level of hard dollar compensation in all their contracts? We can’t help but wonder if that might “move the needle” so to speak. Given all the gear it takes to participate in a triathlon (bike, wheels, clothing, nutrition, electronics, sun screen etc.), an athlete may be able to line up six or seven sponsors.  If the sponsors all guaranteed cash, the sum total might be enough to allow an athlete to give the pro route a legitimate shot. She wouldn’t be staying at the Four Seasons, but she would at least be able to take an honest shot at training and recovering properly. The outcome could be deeper and more competitive fields and that would only be good for the growth of the sport!

We know the topic of pro compensation has been heavily debated and we also know things are never as simple as they seem. We suspect that one of the push back questions to our idea might be…”Why would sponsors consider spending money when they don’t have to?”

That’s a fair question and we acknowledge that all of us at Coeur were born with the gene that drives people to (perhaps foolishly) challenge the status quo. Some people might term these types of individuals as “hopeless idealists” or even “naive”. If it is up to us, though, we’ll stick with the more noble descriptions. Of course, we know we’re not fighting to save democracy but is there any chance we can be tagged as “reformists” or even “crusaders for positive change”???

Ok, I suppose the terminology is beside the point. The question about why a sponsor would pay the extra money is legitimate and we know that the reality is that business owners are capitalists. They are not going to be inclined to give away money even if it is for a good cause. That’s why there is a second part to our proposition.

Based on our completely unscientific polling (namely each other and our close friends), we have come to the conclusion that the vast majority of age groupers would love to see pros paid more. We also think that these age groupers (also known as “customers”) would be inclined to shop with companies that go out of their way to take care of their pros. That’s why we think something similar to the Fair Trade Coffee program might be a solution.

For those not familiar, Fair Trade Coffee is coffee that is certified as having been produced to what is called fair trade standards. Companies that are certified by Fair Trade are held to certain standards that include paying producers a reasonable fee for the beans.

Think before you drink

Believers in Fair Trade are banking on the belief that consumers care about the growers and don’t want to see them mistreated. These “Conscious Consumers” are willing to vote with their dollars and even pay a bit more to buy from companies certified by Fair Trade USA.

So, what if we certified endurance sports sponsors the same way? Perhaps an independent organization (I can think of at least one that might be willing to consider the idea) could validate that the sponsor includes a base rate of compensation in all their contracts and awards the sponsor the certification. The sponsor then uses the certification in their marketing and (ideally) sees an increase in sales. Yay...everyone wins!

Might that be a way to start to create some positive change in triathlon? We’re certainly willing to engage with any other sponsors that are of a similar mind.

Ok, that’s it for our pro sponsorship piece. In our next blog, we’ll share a bit about how we work with our wonderful team of ambassadors.  

Happy Training and Racing Everyone!

Your Friends at Coeur