By Barry Janoff
May 12, 2014: When it comes to wearable sports endorsements, people about the shoes and people talk about the hats. Oakley has worked very hard to have people talk about the face.
Since 1979, Oakley has been putting its eyewear on the faces of athletes and consumers alike. The company, based in Foothill Ranch, Calif., and a division of Luxottica Group S.p.A. Milan, has official alliances that include Major League Baseball (as well as team alliances with the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Canadian Olympic Team and Tour de France.
Oakley is represented in some 30 sports, many of which fall into the action-extreme category. Among athletes, endorsers include golfers Ian Poulter, Zach Johnson and two-time Masters Tournament winner Bubba Watson (pictured below); MLB players Matt Kemp, Chase Utley, Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton (pictured below) and Mark Trumbo; hockey star Teemu Selanne; Nascar drivers Tony Stewart, Clint Boyer, Jamie McMurray; tennis players Sam Stosur and Bob and Mike Ryan; Olympic volleyball gold medal winners Kerri Walsh and Phil Dalhausser; and skateboard/snowboard icons Ryan Sheckler and Shaun White (pictured, right), who is among those with their own signature collection.
Oakley currently operates 163 stores in the U.S. (100 of which are Oakley Stores and 63 of which are Oakley Vaults), and more than 242 worldwide in 19 countries. In May, the company opened on New York's Fifth Ave. a flagship store that offers not only Oakley’s full range of eyewear, watches, accessories and apparel, but a visual experience of videos and animation that was created in alliance with Moment Factory.
Colin Baden joined Oakley in 1996 as director of design after having worked with founder Jim Jannard on private and corporate projects that included the design of Oakley’s headquarters. Following tenures as vp-design and then president of design, Baden in 2009 was named Oakley’s CEO.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Baden in the new store in New York about sports, marketing and getting in-your-face time with athletes and consumers.
NYSportsJournalism.com: What would surprise people the most about Oakley?
Colin Baden: Not many people know we are in brand categories other than eyewear. I would call (the Fifth Avenue location) our biggest retail statement. We are allotting plenty of space for apparel, watches, accessories and other products We have a few flagship stores in the portfolio. One is in San Francisco on Market Street, one in London in Covent Garden and this one. We have others of varying degree, but these are the big three of notoriety for us. This one is very much a brand statement.
NYSJ: Oakley has numerous alliances in sports. Are you finding that consumers regard those alliances to be organic and, in turn, are you getting quality brand recognition and ROI across the board?
CB: Yes. With MLB, for example, it's a great way for fans of baseball to connect with then brand. And not just through eyewear. It's a great way to tell different stories. We have specific alliances with three teams — the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels — but through our deal with MLB you can customize glasses to reflect any MLB team. The three team alliances have grown out of history and success in each of those particular areas. What I like about these [sports] categories is that we can bring out brand DNA into the relationships. We can be quite distinctive. With the Yankees, for example, what has come out of that is not your typical product.
NYSJ: Do you interact with other official marketing partners in your respective league and team alliances?
CB: Definitely. We work very closely with team management, and we have found that having their marketing partners work together is what makes them successful. It's all about relationships that work, build and succeed.
NYSJ: Does that also hold true when working with individual athletes?
CB: Yes, and perhaps even more so in most cases. They never want to start by signing a contract or a dollar amount. They want to hang out. If its watches, eyewear, now our other lines, they'll go, 'Hey, I like your stuff. It helps me to perform better.' If it's our eyewear, it's right on their face. People see it. And the athletes have to be comfortable with it.
NYSJ: As you expand your products, are athletes gravitating to one product or another?
CB: We are offering them different access points to the brand. The watches are coveted because they are available only in our own retail locations, are very unique looking and higher-end. We've had conversations about why aren't we making $100 watches. Because we don't need to. Aren't you proud to be wearing [our $1,995] watch!? You are part of the club.
NYSJ: Oakley has alliances in a vast array of sports. How do you find a balance between not enough and too many?
CB: We have athletes in more than 28 sports. I guess you could argue that it's too many. But they are all very active sports and high-profile athletes, at least in their own sport if not to sports fans. We've been at this for 40 years, so we have a good feel for what works and what works bests to get our message across and to support our brand concept.
NYSJ: In your alliance with the USOC, how do you work with them on the challenge of keeping the Olympic Games and Olympic athletes relevant during non-Olympic Games years?
CB: It is such a choreographed thing these days. We are building product to help these [athletes] perform better, so there will always be that interaction at that level. When I joined the brand (in 1996), it was 'Here's a backpack full of products. Make sure you support our athletes during the Games.'that was it. Flash-forward many years. We signed as the official eyewear supplier to Team USA (in 2011), it was prior to the [2012 London] Olympics. Now it no longer becomes a one-car garage company. Now we're thinking, We're going to be in Rio (for the 2016 Summer Games). Where is the Safe House going to be? Who is going to be managing it? Let's build some retail. Which athletes are going to be there? So our conversations with with USOC are building now. For them, it's always on-going. And we have on-going dialogue to elevate the program.
NYSJ: Among the sports with which Oakley is aligned, why aren't there NBA or NFL spokesmen?
CB: It's hard to have a connection to the NBA when it's not legitimate. We are not a 'team' company. We are an individual athlete company. And we probably always will be. You won't see our logo with the NFL. That's not going to be our deal. With the MLB alliance, it's very specific to the [players]. It's an intimate relationship with specific individuals. If you look at the PGA, sure 70% of the field wears our eyewear, but there are specific people we talk about. So with the NBA, yes, we had great relationships with notable personalities, like Dennis Rodman and Michael Jordan. But Michael came to us through baseball. That's how he got his connection with the brand. Dennis was a great personality, but he fueled controversy, so we said, Why not!? Let's put it on his face! Do we have that today? Would it happen? Probably. We just don't know when. It has to be the right thing that shows it it would succeed.
NYSJ: In marketing, where do you find you are getting the best response?
CB: Digital, the social media world, those are the areas that are compounding and growing. It's all about content and how we generate content. Sports marketing is wonderful and authentic way to do that. As an organization, [historically] we relied on print as a crafted execution of the brand. But [now] it has to be digital. Sports marketing not only puts a significant foundation to our culture but it is the vehicle to which we want a good part of our communication to goo through.
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