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How Kumho Tire USA Is Using Kobe, LeBron, Landon To Make Inroads In Sports

By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor

March 29, 2011: The long and winding road of sports marketing and sponsorship deals is highly competitive, perhaps best exemplified in the category of tire companies. Bridgestone is the official tire of the NFL and the Super Bowl halftime show as well as the NHL and Winter Classic, sibling Firestone is the official tire of Major League Baseball and just renewed with the IndyCar circuit and Goodyear is the official tire of Nascar.

Now, Kumho Tire USA is seeking to leave its own mark on the sports marketing road with deals that include two of the highest profile teams in the NBA, college football and international soccer, including one of the most storied teams in the history of the sport.

Korea-based Kumho's longest sports alliance has been with Manchester United, with whom it became a platinum partner in 2007. The company's Kumho Tire USA division, headquartered in Southern California, had a relatively low profile profile in U.S. sports marketing until late last year, when it signed deals to become the official tire of both the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat. Since last September, Kumho USA has also added sponsorship deals with college football teams including the Ohio State Buckeyes, Texas Longhorns, University of Southern California Trojans, Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers.

This past weekend, Kumho unveiled its "High Performers Sports Marketing Platform" before nearly 79,000 people to support its sponsorship of U.S. soccer. As the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team led by Landon Donovan, faced off in a friendly match against international player of the year Lionel Messi and the national team from Argentina at the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey, Kumho hosted local youth soccer clubs, had on-site activation and launched the "High Performers Challenge Contest," offering as grand prize a new Hyundai Sonata outfitted with Kumho tires.

Kumho said it would integrate its High Performers Sports Marketing Platform into the NBA playoffs and then the 2011 college football season. The parent company is currently dealing with labor and production issues in Korea and China that appear to be separate from the division based in America.

According to  J.B. Kim, CEO and president for Kumho Tire USA, “We know what it means to start small and win big through a dedication to excellence. That’s our story, and we want to see it repeated wherever we do business. So, as we expand further into the U.S. market, we’ll be focusing on high performers and helping them on their way.”

As part of its first-year activation with the Lakers and Heat, Kumho ran a VIP Fan Getaway, offering a trip for four to either Los Angeles or Miami. With each team, Kumho marketing has included signage and branded fan zones within Staples Center and American Airlines Arena, repectively, Kumho-hosted fan nights, player appearances at Kumho Tire USA dealerships and events and TV spots on ESPN Deportes.

Although the company currently has deals with just two NBA teams, it feels it has selected the most marketable teams nationwide, especially considering the presence of such players as Kobe Bryant with the Lakers and Miami's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

According to Rick Brennan, Kumho’s vp-marketing, "Both teams have a huge following of passionate, enthusiastic fans that won’t settle for anything less than the best performance on the court. Kumho understands this completely. Passion and enthusiasm, along with technology, innovation and performance are the ingredients that go into every Kumho tire that give drivers the best performance on the street and off-road.”

Marketing for its High Performers platform with all of is partners will also be part of Kumho's overall brand strategy to support of its new ultra-high-performance tire, the Ecsta 4X, which will hit the road this summer.

Kumho sees a particularly strong demographic among the fans of the numerous college football teams that it supports.

“We are convinced that sponsoring top ranked college teams with legions of passionate fans will allow us to markedly enhance our brand awareness."

“We are convinced that sponsoring top ranked college teams with legions of passionate fans will allow us to markedly enhance our brand awareness," Brennan said in a statement at the time Kumho was signing sponsorship deals with Ohio State, Texas, USC, Florida and Tennessee. "The on-site activation at [these] schools is key to creating meaningful connections with these fans and gives Kumho instant acceptance amongst these loyal fans.”

Kumho said its strategy behind Ecsta 4X and four other brands in the Ecsta UHP lines (LE Sport, SPT, ASX and LX Platinum) would include Kumho's "25% Road Hazard Warranty." "If the tire fails for any reason up to the 25% wear mark, Kumho will replace it for free," according to the company.

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