CFL inks five-year partnership with Reebok

The NBA is definitely cool, and the NHL has its moments - but the CFL? Not exactly at the same card trading level. The 90-year-old football brand is hoping to change that with a new multi-year, multi-million dollar contract with Reebok Canada, the largest licensing agreement in CFL history.

The NBA is definitely cool, and the NHL has its moments – but the CFL? Not exactly at the same card trading level. The 90-year-old football brand is hoping to change that with a new multi-year, multi-million dollar contract with Reebok Canada, the largest licensing agreement in CFL history.

This year, the first of a five-year partnership, the league is hooking up with Reebok to help it connect with the 18-to-24 demo through a full line of CFL lifestyle apparel. The merchandise will be available to consumers later this spring, and Reebok will also redesign the teams’ uniforms next year.

According to Alexis Redmond, the CFL’s Toronto-based director of marketing and communications, Reebok will help bring ‘the game off the field, into the retail environment, and onto the backs of younger fans.’

By leveraging the cool factor of Reebok’s pro-athletic performance gear, the CFL hopes to clear the shelves of its new retail partners Sportchek and Foot Locker, along with independently owned stores across the country. The CFL will get the royalties from sales.

‘This is the widest distribution of apparel that the CFL has ever had,’ confirms Micki Rivers, Reebok’s Mississauga, Ont.-based marketing manager. To date, fans could only pick up CFL products at the stadium.

‘My number-one job right now is to get the apparel into the stores and to make sure that kids know where to find the clothes,’ she says. To that end, a new TV spot by Toronto-based Downtown Partners is set to air on TSN during the CFL season. The CFL’s Web site will also promote the new line.

The deal between Reebok and the CFL comes after Toronto-based brand consultancy Future Brand conducted research on the league’s largely male, 18-to-44 demo two years ago. Through 20 focus groups, it found that the brand needed a revamp to be relevant to the younger market.

The research was conducted across the nine markets that are home to CFL teams. The results also showed that, even though game attendance in Vancouver and Montreal was up by as much as 40% in 2002 and the game is popular in Edmonton, the CFL was having trouble drawing crowds in some of the more competitive sports-entertainment markets, such as Toronto.

To raise awareness, Reebok is adopting programs it has successfully implemented with other pro leagues such as the NBA.

For example, in order to harness the cachet of the CFL athletes off-field a-la-NBA’s LeBron James, Reebok will market three footballers, one as a fashion icon (think Allen Iverson), another as a fan-magnet (think Yao Ming), and the third as a performance guru (think Kobe Bryant). Reebok acquires the rights to market individual athletes next year.

Reebok will also introduce interactive promotions, such as a version of an NBA program that saw fans call a 1-800 number or use text messaging to hear from their favourite athletes, who pitched new products.

Finally, there’s the possibility of picking up a recent initiative from the NFL draft season. In that effort, Reebok offered kids 20 customized business cards featuring their names, phone numbers, and e-mails – along with the same Reebok advertisement that was sewn on the NFL draft-season baseball caps.

Meanwhile, Reebok will continue to court youth’s attention through celebrity seeding. For instance, Reebok was able to convince rapper 50 Cent to wear CFL team jerseys pro bono during his recent national tour.

Reebok currently makes two or three calls a week to music execs with the hope of getting celebs to don its clothing. These hook-ups are especially important in the busier sports-entertainment markets, says Rivers.

However, in its efforts to marry the brand with trendy youth, the CFL is not losing sight of its core value – being Canadian. ‘Canadians have memories of going to games with their dads and families,’ says Redmond. ‘We have maintained the heritage as part of our game, and we don’t want to lose that. But we are re-imagining how to market to younger consumers.’