Modrobes signs with Toronto Rock lacrosse team

The Toronto Rock lacrosse squad isn't your typical sports franchise, and Modrobes isn't your typical fashion brand. That's why a sponsorship deal between the two entities was a no-brainer for Modrobes founder/designer Steven Saldebus.

The Toronto Rock lacrosse squad isn’t your typical sports franchise, and Modrobes isn’t your typical fashion brand. That’s why a sponsorship deal between the two entities was a no-brainer for Modrobes founder/designer Steven Saldebus.

‘[Lacrosse] players aren’t overpaid whiners like in every other sport, so it has that appeal,’ he says. ‘That reflects our brand as well. It’s not one of those, ‘We outfit movie celebs or rap stars, so therefore you should buy our stuff.’ I think that’s crap and our customers don’t believe in that garbage. They like our brand because it’s functional, it works and it’s Canadian.’

Saldebus signed a full sponsorship deal with the Rock for the upcoming season, which kicks off in January; through the arrangement, Modrobes will outfit the team with its casual, athletic-inspired designs and have its logo plastered ‘everywhere,’ from the team’s jerseys to billboard spots during television broadcasts and in programs distributed during matches at the Air Canada Centre.

It is the most cash the Toronto-based clothing company has ever dished out for sponsorship – the price tag was between $50,000 and $100,000 – but Saldebus thinks the investment is well worth it.

‘The Rock plays at the ACC and they get [almost] 20,000 people per game, which is pretty much the same amount as the [Toronto] Raptors,’ but with less of an ad budget, he points out.

‘It’s a huge underground sport. It’s not mainstream recognition, but people get excited and they actually win – they’ve won the championship for the last three years.’ (Unlike another certain sports franchise in Toronto.)

Part of the decision for Saldebus was personal: he himself played ‘Canada’s other national game’ for 15 years. But the main advantage is The Rock’s grassroots appeal; it isn’t a mammoth brand, and therefore it won’t overshadow Modrobes. ‘Football or hockey would take over the brand – lacrosse adds flavour. The exposure is great because the sport is very much male-oriented, so we’ll be increasing the male audience for the brand.’

While Modrobes has nowhere near the marketing might of the Nikes of the world, Saldebus realized it was high time to bump up the brand’s exposure. ‘We’re always looking for ways to get out there and show people what we do, because we’re always competing with companies that have huge ad budgets.’

Rock-labelled Modrobes merchandise will be sold at the ACC’s sports shop for die-hard fans, as well as in a special section at Modrobes’ Queen Street store, and Saldebus is also talking to some of his retail partners about a wholesale program. There are plans to tour university and college campus bars in February to introduce the collection, too.

Some might argue that, given Modrobes popularity with the ‘cool’ crowd, it would have made more sense from a brand-fit perspective for Saldebus to venture into an extreme sports partnership. But he felt the field was too crowded and says skateboarding ‘wasn’t the reason for starting Modrobes’ anyway.

Max Valiquette, president of Toronto-based youth marketing consultants Youthography, views the lacrosse deal as a rite of passage for the clothing manufacturer and believes it implies the brand is growing up. ‘It’s right in line with Modrobes’ aggressive strategy [with which] they want to build themselves. They already have listings in fairly high-profile chain stores, such as The Bay. Now they have to step up their marketing,’ he says. ‘A lot of people are frustrated with the heavy corporateness of professional sports and a fair number of them end up going to lacrosse – I think it fits well with Modrobes.’

Plus, while individual extreme sports is indeed escalating in participation, as a group and from a viewership standpoint, young people still prefer to grab a cold one and cheer on their favourite teams.

Recognizing that Modrobes doesn’t have the deep pockets to launch a full-scale TV campaign, Valiquette believes the lacrosse tie-in ‘represents a high level of creativity and an impressive level of fulfilment.’

And, of course, what’s good for Modrobes is also good for The Rock. ‘It makes lacrosse seem hip, young and cool, without having the players on skateboards,’ says Valiquette. Sounds like a win-win situation, especially if The Rock captures the National Lacrosse League World Championships for a fourth time.