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Columbia partners with USSA to outfit freestyle team

SNEWS has the scoop on the United States Ski & Snowboard Association partnering with Columbia Sportswear to outfit the Freestyle Ski Team through the 2014 Winter Olympics. Read all about it.

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The United States Ski & Snowboard Association has brought another heavyweight snowsports apparel manufacturer onto the national podium, announcing Sept. 21, 2011, that Columbia Sportswear is now the official apparel sponsor for the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team.

Under terms of the agreement, Columbia has signed a three-year agreement to outfit U.S. mogul skiers and aerialists with outerwear, Omni-Heat Reflective baselayers and hats. Columbia will also outfit the broadcasters and television crews for NBC Sports and Versus during televised freestyle ski events. 

“This is really the kind of thing that throws a halo around the whole brand, that the kind of merchandise we’ve been making for years has the endorsement of world-leading athletes,” Tim Boyle, president and chief executive officer of Columbia said in an exclusive interview with SNEWS.

Boyle said Columbia is continually fielding requests for partnerships or cross-branding opportunities from associations or teams, but jumped at the chance to work with the USSA, particularly after the apparel manufacturer’s success with the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team at the 2010 Winter Olympics. 

“We had such terrific success with the Canadian Freestyle Team at the Whistler Olympics, it was really a home run for us,” Boyle said of the feedback and exposure that resulted from the partnership.

Joking for a moment that he thinks the deal will help Columbia reach “the older market,” Boyle said that the rising profile of freestyle ski competition positions the brand with the emerging youth demographic. “We think this is where kids are going,” he said when asked why Columbia wanted to align itself with the freestyle team instead of say, any of the more classic alpine pursuits. “Now don’t take this literally, but it’s the difference between boxing and cage fighting who watches moguls and freestyle. It’s a vastly different demographic.” 

For the USSA, Columbia’s deal with the Freestyle team marks the fourth major apparel brand to partner with the association. Burton is the official apparel partner for U.S. Snowboarding, Spyder partners with the Alpine team, and The North Face came on board earlier this year with the Freeskiing team.

“It’s clearly a strategic focus for us to align with top tier brands to help us and the brands be best in the world,” Andrew Judelson, USSA chief revenue and marketing officer told SNEWS. “We want to provide opportunities for brands like Columbia that have a core focus on snowsports to prove the performance of their products, and also for the consumer to see the best athletes in the world wearing their clothes and saying, ‘I want that.’” 

For Boyle, and for Judelson as well, R&D opportunities, additional branding, and even the possibility for the creation of signature lines can all be looked at further into the relationship. What is certain for now, along with the fact that U.S. freestyle skiers will be wearing Columbia at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is that the USSA will also provide Columbia with one more e-commerce outlet to sell its products.

Beginning this fall, the USSA will introduce a new e-commerce initiative with TeamFanShop. The e-tailer, which also works with the National Football League and National Basketball Association, will offer USSA and USST branded gear, as well as apparel and equipment from the association’s partners. 

While Judelson said the goal for the e-commerce is not to be a “core revenue stream provider” for the brands, he does “think it gives us a legitimacy when discussing the benefits of partnering with us.”

When USSA announced its e-commerce initiative in May 2011, the release said the site would showcase more than 30 brand licensees to an audience of more than 16 million skiers and snowboarders. Judelson said, “As the shepherds of competitive snowsports in this country, we want to be driving linkage between participation, the athletes, the brands and the events. We don’t want that audience just to care every four years during the Olympics. We want to create more opportunities to reach them on a regular basis.”

Peter Kray

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