Why two surprising sports partnerships actually make sense


Why would a sports brand aimed at runners choose to partner with a cycling team? Why would an outdoor clothing brand hook up with Manchester United? Oliver Dent, Account Executive at Dentsu Aegis Network Sport & Entertainment, says there is method in the madness…

asics sky manchester united columbia sponsorship

Two somewhat unusual sport sponsorship agreements have recently been announced, where two sports brands, which are well established in their respective sports, partnered with teams in other sports.

The first of these partnerships was running brand Asics becoming Official Supplier of Running Shoes to Team Sky during the 2016 season. This is unusual given Asics have no cycling clothing or footwear products to their name and the general perception that professional cyclists dislike walking let alone running!

However, when we delve deeper into the deal we can start to build a picture of the rationale behind the partnership. Their rights include having Team Sky riders wear their shoes on the podium, in the gym and whilst out training. With the brand seeking to reinforce their brand values of performance and inspiration, the opportunity to have Chris Froome wearing your trainers on the podium of the Tour de France is a compelling narrative.

Asics may also be looking to grow their presence in the triathlon market as triathletes may use Asics trainers whilst running and take inspiration from Team Sky when cycling. This year-long partnership has perhaps been set in place to coincide with the ending of Team Sky's kit supplier partnership with Rapha at the end of the season. It will be interesting to see if Asics are looking to branch out into cycling clothing with a view to potentially taking over from Rapha with a longer-term deal.

The second partnership was agreed between American outdoor clothing brand Columbia Sportswear and Manchester United. Whilst sportswear is in the brand's name, it is better known for operating in the hiking and mountaineering market place and you'd be forgiven for questioning their involvement in football.

However, this is a global partnership with one of the biggest football teams in the world that gives Columbia the rights to produce a range of United-branded outerwear to sell in markets around the world. United claim to have over 659m supporters worldwide, with over half of them from the Asia Pacific region and this will undoubtedly help the brand drive their expansion in this region.

Whilst it is unusual for brands from one sport to move into another sport with no apparent related products to sell, with innovative activations these brands can set themselves apart from their competitors. Differentiation is a key driver for brands in the sports apparel landscape and sponsorship is an excellent way to achieve this marketing objective.  

It will be interesting to see how these partnerships pan out over the next year; are Asics moving into cycling apparel or is this a more subtle brand value exchange partnership? What impact will MUFC branded outerwear have on Columbia sales, and will anyone actually want to wear it?

asics sky manchester united columbia sponsorship
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