By Barry Janoff
February 17, 2016: The origin of kinesiology, or therapeutic, tape dates back to the 1970s when Dr. Kenzo Kase developed a product that could be used by chiropractors, physical therapists, team trainers and other medical personnel and comfortably worn by athletes who were rehabilitating from several types of muscle, ligament and tendon-related injuries while continuing to play in their respective sports.
However, the product did not receive global attention until the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, when 50,000 rolls of what the Kinesio Holding Co. had trademarked as Kinesio Tape — kinesiology being the science and study of the mechanics and anatomy of human muscles — were donated to some 58 nations, including the U.S.
Prominent among the athletes who wore the tape was Kerri Walsh Jennings. Having earlier undergone surgery on her right rotator cuff, she had the tape on her shoulder as she and partner Misty May-Treanor powered their way to a gold medal in beach volleyball.
Soon thereafter, Walsh Jennings became a brand ambassador for KT Health, Lindon, Utah, which developed their own trademarked product, KT (short for Kinesiology Therapeutic) Tape. She wore it during volleyball competitions and then throughout the 2012 Summer Games in London, this time specifically giving KT Tape exposure in the U.S. and worldwide. Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor won gold for the third consecutive time (having first done so at the 2004 Games in Athens).
Now, in advance of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the company has been very active and highly visible.
In January, KT Health signed veteran marketing executive Russell Schleiden as its CMO.
Also in January, KT Heath strengthened its Olympic presence by signing a multi-year deal to become a licensee for the U.S. Olympic Committee, with KT Tape as the USOC's official kinesiology tape. It now is available for all Team USA athletes in U.S. Olympic Training Centers en route to the Summer Games and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
NBA All-Star James Harden of the Houston Rockets is also a brand ambassador. In addition to wearing the product on-court with the Houston Rockets, he is among the finalists to make the USA Men's Basketball team heading to Rio this summer.
Earlier this month, KT Tape became the official kinesiology tape for USA Track & Field, making it available for about 20 USATF national teams and 60 annual national championship events, from youth to masters, including track & field, long-distance running and race walking. Along with that, iconic marathon runner Meb Keflezighi became aligned with KT Tape.
In its first activation with USATF, KT Tape was on-site during the USOC Marathon Trials in Los Angeles on Feb. 13.
KT Tape is also officially aligned with the Flag Football World Championship Tour.
With the Summer Games less than six months off (Aug. 5-21), NYSportsJournalism spoke with Greg Venner, who has been CEO for KT Health since April 2015, about working with athletes, the challenges of growing the kinesiology tape category, the importance of its alliance with the USOC and activations and marketing leading to the Rio Olympics.
NYSportsJournalism.com: Your association with the Olympic Games goes back to 2008 with Kerri Walsh Jennings. At what point did you decide to have an official alliance with the USOC?
Greg Venner: Back to 2008, our founders saw kinesiology tape being used by athletes. So the idea came to us to take it out of the clinics and put it into the hands of consumers. We signed Kerri as an endorser, and she has been our brand ambassador ever since. The move to become officially aligned with the USOC this year was driven by the goal of putting our product on all of our Olympic athletes. That was our motivation.
NYSJ: Have you been able to measure a rise in sales and awareness because of exposure during the Olympics?
GV: What we see is that during the Olympics there is an inflection point in the business. The category grows, the brand grows, awareness grows. We grow the user base. So what better way to do it than to formalize that relationship with the USOC. We are now an official licensee and we also will be providing the athletes with product to use in training centers. We would like them to use it throughout their training, competition and during the Summer Games when they need to use it and want to use it.
NYSJ: How will you be getting Kerri, James Harden and other brand ambassadors involved in awareness campaigns?
GV: We're counting on them both to make the Olympics. Kerri is on our packaging, James will be on the Olympic packaging. We also are using both of them in online efforts. There will be more activation as the Games get closer. They also are increasing awareness for the product among other athletes whenever they wear it. It's very strong word-of-mouth, which is very impactful among athletes.
NYSJ: It must help that when Harden wears KT Tape it's not covered by his NBA jersey, and when Kerri wears it she's dressed for volleyball on the beach, so not much else covering her.
GV: (Laughs.) It is hard to miss the product when she's wearing it and nothing else but her volleyball suit. This has been a terrific association for us. She is a wonderful spokesperson. She's very visible. It's amazing how many people recognize her, and then make the connection with KT Tape.
NYSJ: Are you looking to expand your athlete endorsement roster?
GV: We are seeing a lot of athletes using kinesiology tape and most are using ours. They may not have an association with us, but they know that it's a piece of sports equipment. There are a lot of athletes who use it for every event. You see athletes on TV using our product. Last year, Michelle Wie had so many injuries that at one point she was almost wrapped in kinesiology tape. So you see the visibility growing and more awareness of the benefits.
NYSJ: Can kinesiology tape be used as a preventive measure as opposed to just post-injury, say for athletes who incur the same type of injury more than once?
GV: We don't have any clinical studies to show that kinesiology tape can be used to prevent injuries, but we do see more athletes who wear it for that purpose. For some athletes, they become so accustomed to wearing it, it's almost a piece of their uniform. So they will put in on during practice or for a game.
NYSJ: You have Harden as a brand ambassador, and players in other pro sports use kinesiology tape, so have you had, or do you want to have, plans to an official partner with the NBA, NFL, MLB, for example, or specific pro teams?
GV: We have had those discussions. We haven't found the right combination of visibility, affordability and the desire to have a deal. We are always evaluating those types of deals. We'd like to be as visible as possible.
NYSJ: Will you be involved with USOC events leading up to the Summer Games, such as a 100-days out activation?
GV: It depends. We are a licensee, so we don't get included in all of it. But we certainly will be visible in all those areas where we have the entree with the USOC. We expect to be a long-term partner with them. We are speaking with their medical sciences group, which is very familiar with our product. They like using it. The athletes like it. In a typical licensee agreement, you produce product, you sell product. But we are approaching this very differently. Not only are we a licensee, we also want to be a resource for the USOC in how best to use our product and help the athletes.
"Kerri is a wonderful spokesperson. She's very visible. It's amazing how many people recognize her, and then make the connection with KT Tape."
NYSJ: What is the strategy beyond the Olympics for growth and awareness?
GV: Since I joined the company, we have been looking at our overall strategy. How do we best grow the brand? We've done a lot of research among consumers. So we know what are the most prevalent injuries for which they use kinesiology tape, what sports are they typically engaged with, which sports do they use tape while they play. We've identified those sports verticals as the areas in which we want to concentrate. So we have a pretty comprehensive plan about how to grow the business. And it is fairly ambitious. We expect to double the business in three years, triple it in five. We are still a small company. So that's not easy to do by any means. It's not as if you're dealing with Nike and having that same type of growth objective. None the less, it is very impactful for our organization.
NYSJ: Are you seeing brand awareness among consumers?
GV: We are producing a limited-edition Olympic version of the tape for consumers, which will be the same tape that the athletes are using, as we get closer to the Summer Games. We are the largest brand at retail, about 90%. We are in about 35,000 stores in the U.S., so we have a very broad-scale distribution. We also are selling online. And we are in clinics. In brick-and-mortar, we are the dominant brand. So when people see KT Tape on Kerri or James, they can go to retail stores and buy it. We are building awareness of the brand with our athletes and with advertising, social media, playing off the fact that KT Tape is the dominant brand available to consumers and now an official part of the Olympics. Kinesiology tape is only in about 4% of U.S. households right now. So we know that we have a big opportunity to grow awareness, to drive trial and to ensure that our brand stays in a leadership position in the category.
KT Tape Sticking Around As Official Partner For U.S. Olympic Committee, Team USA
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