‘Tis the season for announcing teams and ambassadors for 2014.  Over the past few years many triathlon and endurance sport related brands have created teams and ambassador programs in which both professional and age group athletes help to promote the brand through grass roots marketing (full disclosure I participate in programs by Oiselle, Skratch Labs, Picky Bars and Coeur Sports, all of which are fantastic companies run by great people and I believe in both the products and the mission but that’s a whole different blog post).

Team and ambassador programs are generally a win-win situation, the athletes get free or discounted gear, products and sometimes cash bonuses for exceptional performances and the brand gets a group a passionate athletes to promote its products on a one-on-one level.  We all trust the recommendations of a friend, coach or teammate more than a glossy ad in Lava Magazine.  Some of the more recognizable teams and ambassador programs out there are Nuun, Zoot, Rev 3, SauconyAquaphor and Lululemon.

As many of my friends are runners and triathletes the topic of who is on which team comes up pretty frequently this time of year, what we have noticed is that some teams/programs have a lot of body type diversity and others only seem to pick the really skinny girls.  As one friend put it: “for the life of me think of a brand that uses athletes with a lot of body type diversity . . . It seems like brands use emaciated women who have low body fat or skinny-strong low body fat like.  I can’t think of any tri brands that work hard to put out a product for the ‘normal’ female – you know…the one who has periods, has babies and has hormonal craziness.”  While I don’t think this comment applies to all brands, I think that many should take a look at their programs and try to achieve greater body type diversity, not just for the sake of diversity, but because including women of all shapes and sizes is good for the brand.

In 2012 there were  550,446 members  of USA Triathlon, an increase of over 400,000 from the 130,000 members in 2000. That’s an almost 400% increase in just 12 years.  While many triathletes fall into the lean category as far as body type goes, many, many do not.   Take a look at the finish line of any event from sprint to 140.6 and you will see people of all shapes and sizes.  Indeed,  regardless of body type, all triathletes need gear and apparel and opinion leaders and influencers come in all shapes and sizes.  Take a look at the FaceBook pages of people like Swim Bike Mom (over 12,000 likes) and The Heavyweight Runner (over 10,000 likes), neither of these women fit into the “typical” lean model of a triathlete but both wield enormous influence, especially among athletes new to the sport (and remember those of the athletes who need the most gear and appeal and are the most likely to look to others for advice on what to buy).

Many teams and ambassador programs require pictures to be submitted with the application and my suspicion (and this is a suspicion, not a known fact) is that some brands pick based on the picture rather than the person.  I would argue that based on the growth and diversity of body types in the sport, all brands should seriously look at the content of character, the scope of influence and the enthusiasm for the product rather than the shape and size of the body and that by doing so they will help expand their markets and drive sales — exactly the end goal brands were looking to achieve when they started their programs.

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Kelly Burns Gallagher

mccarter english employment litigator / oiselle team runner / coeur sports triathlete / sonic endurance coach & race director / witsup.com writer / dartmouth '02 / emorylaw '05


Alicia · December 23, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I guess I never really thought about brands picky by body shape or “look” -maybe its because I haven’t really searched for brands to represent, or the brands I really love seem to already have a diverse group of people supporting them. I would never look to lululemon b/c of the things I’ve read in the press about them – maybe its things like this that also have me steering away from brands that would likely steer away from me? Not sure.

Alex Cabrera · December 23, 2013 at 6:19 pm

So ironic I was having this same conversation with a friend last night wondering if Saucony only picked the fastest athletes. I told my friend that it would make sense from a marketing standpoint for them to also pick slower but passionate runners that can relate to the average runner or the recreational runner.

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