Going Ten Rounds With Everlast President Adam Geisler On The State Of Boxing, MMA, Mike Tyson And Keeping Fit At 100
Not many people or companies get to reach the century mark and still say that they are on top of their game. Everlast, one of the most iconic brands in sports, turns 100 in January 2010. But rather than rest on its mighty laurels, the company will launch an aggressive year-long centennial celebration that not only will draw upon its past greatness, but also work to raise awareness among casual and new consumers.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted November 11, 2009)
Boxing is in Everlast's blood. Founded by Jacob Golomb, its ring history stretches from heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey (1919-26) through such legends as "Sugar" Ray Robinson, "Sugar" Ray Leonard and "the Greatest" Muhammad Ali, to current stars including Manny Pacquiao, Paul Williams and Andre Berto. Everlast is also the exclusive supplier of boxing equipment for USA Boxing and the International Amateur Boxing Assn. as well as for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. In addition, Everlast has had alliances with and product placement in The Contender and The Biggest Loser reality shows.
However, not wanting to be weighed down by the public mood swings regarding boxing, which has had several golden eras but more recently has taken its share of critical hits, Everlast has extended its reach while maintaining its core business acumen. Over the past year, the company, which is headquartered in New York but is a subsidiary of British-based Brands Holding Ltd., signed a deal with 24 Hour Fitness in an effort to reach the growing number of consumers who attend gyms and fitness centers. Everlast also added mixed martial arts legend Randy Couture to its roster of sports endorsers and aligned with MMA gyms and leagues in order to reach a younger and growing demographic. According to Matt Cowan, Everlast's vp-marketing and product, “Our brand is synonymous with boxing, but we aren't handcuffed to only boxing. It's a huge business opportunity from a product development and marketing standpoint.”
Among the centennial activations is a new line of Muhammad Ali boxing products developed with Ali Enterprises; a line of clothing from urban-centric company No Mas; media support including Sports Insight, Men's Journal and ESPN.com, as well as TV product placement; a centennial microsite with historical images, videos, a special logo and other items about Everlast's history; and a social media initiative on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter asking consumers to answer the question, “What do you fight for?” Select fighters will wear centennial gold throughout 2010. Product launches and events also are planned.
Adam Geiser, 33, who was svp-marketing at Everlast for more than seven years before being named president in 2008, spoke with NYSportsJournalism.com about the challenges and benefits of marketing a 100-year-old icon to a new generation of consumers.
NYSportsJournalism.com: What does it feel like to have so much activation for a 100-year-old company?
Adam Geisler: This is an exciting time for Everlast. We are launching a lot of products with our 100th anniversary logo, looking to stay connected with our core consumers but also expanding the reach among boxing enthusiasts and making strong inroads into the fitness category. So we have heavy bags with the 100th anniversary logo and apparel with the 100th anniversary logo. We also have the Everlast NY Collection we are [rolling out] with No Mas, a New York-based apparel company that is authentic sub-culture, higher end hats, bags, hoodies and other products. The No Mas collection is a completely new area for us. And we are working with Muhammad Ali Enterprises to support the Ali collection.
NYSJ: Muhammad Ali is a legend and icon not only from his time in the ring but from what he has done since. How do you market him and his image without hurting either?
Geisler: We are working very closely with Muhammad Ali Enterprises to create marketing and products that genuinely reflect his image and the legend he has built. The Ali collection is being received very well both by retailers and consumers. It has been really embraced by Modell's, Dick's Sporting Goods and others and is a strong part of our 100th anniversary plans. We also are running a promotion that will send two people to Ali's hometown of Louisville to take a private tour of the Muhammad Ali Center. (Details here.)
NYSJ: Is one of your challenges to build on the history of Everlast but also to create alliances with new and younger consumers?
Geisler: As you turn 100, you don't want to be 100 years old, you want to be 100 years relevant. So we are very conscious about how we want to position the company. We want to celebrate the past while we talk about the future. Everlast is all about authenticity, so we want to take all the great things that have happened and incorporate that into marketing that looks at the future of the brand. This is a real, tangible brand that has been around 100 years, and we want to convey that to consumers while also showing how exciting and creative the next 100 years will be. In this day and age people want real things they can hold on to. They want real brands. But they have to be relevant to them. And that's the biggest challenge. And we are doing that with branding, marketing and the partnerships we are building with 24 Hour Fitness, Randy Couture, Gray Maynard and MMA.
"As you turn 100, you don't want to be 100 years old, you want to be 100 years relevant. We want to celebrate the past while we talk about the future."
NYSJ: How important was it to renew the alliance with 24 Hour Fitness?
Geisler: The test for us has been to extend boxing beyond the boxing ring and into the larger picture of fitness and living an active, healthy lifestyle. And in doing so to make it relevant to Everlast. When we launched the partnership in [May] 2008 we introduced the Everlast Shadowbox Workout to 24 Hour Fitness [locations], which combines the moves of boxing with conditioning and fitness exercises. The alliance gave us the opportunity to reach new consumers with the Everlast brand while maintaining our boxing heritage. We renewed the relationship with 24 Hour Fitness [this past September] with marketing that tied boxing with fitness and conditioning. It is important for us to be hands-on, so we held a special Everlast Shadowbox Workout event in two 24 Hour Fitness locations, one in California and one in Florida. The response was amazing: We had almost 200 people in one class in California on a Saturday morning and about 100 in a class in Florida. What we also are seeing is that our workout attracts more men than normally would be at a fitness class. The usual ratio is 80-20 female to male; at our workout events that is 60-40 female to male. So it is great for 24 Hour Fitness because it brings more men in. And for us it allows us to retain the authenticity of our boxing heritage while expanding it into the fitness category.
NYSJ: Has the MMA connection, driven by the alliance with Randy Couture, met and/or exceeded your expectations?
Geisler: We signed Randy in 2008, and he brought with him credentials that were unquestioned by MMA and fight enthusiasts: Six Ultimate Fighting Championship titles and a member of the UFC Hall of Fame. So if you are a fan of boxing or a fan of MMA you know he is the real thing. We came out with ads and a tagline specifically for MMA but that boxing fans could also relate to: "This is our kingdom." We have been in fight sports for 100 years. We have always been in fight sports. Fight sports have evolved. So for Everlast to evolve and incorporate mixed martial arts into what we do was a natural fit. Our thinking was it would not make sense if we didn't. Our consumers and fans have accepted it because they also have evolved. Randy has been a tremendous brand ambassador for us, as has Gray Maynard. We have the Everlast name on an entire line of MMA products, from heavy bags and punch shields to apparel. We also work with Randy in his Xtreme Couture Gyms. I have to give him a lot of credit for getting us into the MMA space and reaching MMA fans and consumers. Not only do they want us there, they welcome us there. Working with Randy, we have created a great atmosphere, great products and a phenomenal brand.
NYSJ: Everlast uses some traditional print media, but are you finding it more effective to be driven by experiential and hands-on marketing efforts?
Geisler: It has to be. For us, we have always taken a top-down and bottom-up strategy whenever we venture into anything. Top-down is that we have always been aligned with world champions. That's what the brand was founded on. Jack Dempsey was our first world heavyweight champion. Since then there have been 1,000s of champions who have been part of the Everlast brand. They want it to be part of their legacy. And we want to have 1,000s more over the next 100 years. The second part is bottom-up, that this sport is about grass roots. It is the one sport where you can go to a gym and be working out on a heavy bag next to a world champion. You can't just go to a basketball court and be playing alongside Michael Jordan or LeBron James. But in our sport, that's what it's about. The grass roots experience is important, and we spend a lot of time focusing on it.
NYSJ: Is marketing the Everlast name comparatively easier because it is such an iconic brand and has been associated with legendary athletes such as Dempsey, Ali, "Sugar" Ray Robinson and "Sugar" Ray Leonard, or is it more challenging because boxing is not as popular as it was during its golden eras?
Geisler: The fact that we were so closely associated with the elite athletes of boxing when it was considered one of the big four sports in this country works in our favor. The sport is not as popular today. But boxing always has its ebbs and flows. It goes through periods where people say, "Boxing is dying." People have been saying that for the last 20 years. But boxing is not dying; it's not going anywhere. People and athletes will always gravitate toward it. MMA is a testament that people want to see this type of sporting event. I see boxing now as going through a resurrection. When you look at the Miguel Cotto-Manny Pacquiao World Boxing Organization welterweight title fight [at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas Nov. 14], we've worked very closely with Manny-Pac. And that's going to get an estimated half a million pay-per-view buys or more. So how can you say something is dead when you are generating that type of audience? This fight has had tremendous success from HBO's 24/7 (a four-part series that took people behind the scenes of both training camps) and is generating a younger demographic. I would argue that the ratings they have had on that equal some of the [best] ratings for the fights that HBO has shown. And when you combine boxing and MMA under the fight sports umbrella, it is an exciting time for us to have all of these things going on.
NYSJ: What are your observations regarding Mike Tyson, who is going through a rebirth period with the public?
Geisler: WIth the Tyson documentary that came out [in 2009, written and directed by James Toback], anyone who can expose themselves, be naked in front of the public and really tell them what they've gone through and what they've learned, that goes a long way. The thing with Michael is, what is he going to do next? Is he going to be an ambassador for the sport, will he help others by sharing his trials and tribulations, or will more bad things happen to him? We are very friendly with him. He has been a great brand ambassador for Everlast. So we hope he does well. (Editor's Note: This interview was conducted before the altercation at LAX on Nov. 11 between Tyson and a photographer.)
NYSJ: Have you aligned Everlast with any of the boxers who might turn pro after the next Summer Olympics, which will be held in London in 2012?
Geisler: We are the official supplier of boxing equipment, footwear and apparel for the 2012 Olympics, which is a designation we haven't had before. Our parent company is based in the U.K. and they are very excited to be part of the Olympics there. But it is a little early for us as far as [signing endorsements with] specific boxers. Olympic champions turn over every four years and only a couple return from one Olympic to the next. So it is too early to determine now which boxers who are in the programs will be on the 2012 Olympic team and then turn pro.
NYSJ: What are the biggest changes you've seen in boxing and marketing the sport since you joined Everlast and what changes do you see coming?
Geisler: When I started here, Everlast was a sleeping giant. Then we woke it up. I think we had a lot to do with bringing exciting marketing back to boxing. We brought exciting boxers back into endorsement deals, into the retail space and back into the public eye. We are an endemic brand, and our goal is to always push the sport to another level. We know what Converse and Nike have done for basketball. That's what we are doing for boxing. It's been great to watch the sport evolve over the past ten years. What Showtime and HBO have done is very exciting and very important to keep the sport in the public eye. Oscar de la Hoya and his company, Golden Boy Promotions, came into the sport, putting a fighter into a promotional role and bringing fighters together. A lot of what Golden Boy and Top Rank have done in terms of marketing really has helped the sport evolve and to reach a new audience and new demographics. At the end of the day, what the sport needs more of is the fighters determining who is best and which fights are the best fights rather than have somebody else control that. We are getting closer to these promotional companies when big fights are happening in trying to activate at retail. We go to Dick's Sporting Goods, Modell's, to make sure that consumers know these fights are happening. And also to make sure that people know that boxing is not just for the athletes in the ring but that the workout is there, the physical benefits are there for anyone. We've been in the ring for 100 years and I see us being here and driving the sport for another 100 years.
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