Media for a New World: Extreme Sport, Mainstream Marketing

So this is what it has come to: The networks, broadcast and cable, are green with envy over MTV’s The Osbournes, which by drawing in the neighborhood of 5 million viewers is a breakout success in the new "not-as-mass-as-it-used-to-be media" reality. While programming executives struggle with stars and scheduling in an effort to draw the largest possible audience, they particularly struggle to draw the coveted high school (and junior high school and college) hipsters who are the most immune to traditional marketing messages. But there’s a larger issue looming.

It’s not just the TV audience that’s fragmented in recent years. In the experience of many larger marketers, it’s the entire consumer market. Coke and Pepsi can’t drive significant additional revenues and profit by selling more of their core products, so they hit the niches, trying to emulate and beat tiny players that in many cases got their footholds by offering alternative products to consumers at the edges of the mainstream. Think Snapple at its start.

Also, think Nike and its current yen to rule sports niches like skateboarding and roller hockey. Case in point: Vans, the oldest marketer of skateboarding shoes, with about $350 million in annual sales, is finding itself in a fierce market share fight with the sports lifestyle giant, which at $9.5 billion in annual sales is almost 30 times Vans’ size. Having more or less topped out for the time being in mainstream categories like basketball, Nike is searching for ways to court more extreme enthusiasts, many of them kids who want nothing to do with its corporate kind.

Vans and Nike know that being able to afford ads on the Super Bowl and the NBA playoffs doesn’t mean you’re going to sell many skateboarding shoes there. Vans’ media of choice: skate parks, skate magazines, alternative music (it owns the Warped tour), and extreme sports programming. Its most recent marketing vehicle is DogTown and Z-Boys, a documentary about a group of 1970s kids around Venice, Calif., who are credited with being the first to skate in drained-out swimming pools. Produced with Vans’ money, the film was directed by former professional skateboarder and Z-Boy Stacy Peralta and is being distributed by Sony Pictures Classics this month.

While the film has received criticism for marketing Vans too blatantly for some tastes, it’s made a splash on the festival circuit and looks to have a pretty good shot at giving both the outlaw sport and the brand exposure to a larger audience, all in a cool, word-of-mouth way. Nike, meanwhile has its own modest answer to DogTown and Z-Boys. The Nike Hockey–financed documentary Rocket Dreams — The Road to Vegas follows a coed roller hockey team from San Diego to the North American Roller Hockey Championships in Sin City. Directed by Craig Caryl, who’s made 17 inline skating films and 10 skateboard films, including MTV Sports’ top-rated Junk Skate, Rocket Dreams also has original hip-hop music. It will show Rocket Dreams at many NARHC regional championships and will make the video available to teams to sell as a fund-raising tool.

According to a press release for the film, the documentary marks the beginning of an aggressive Nike campaign to grow the sport, connect with aficionados, and become the brand of choice.

All without a spot on Friends.

Marcie Mageria is editor of Video Business magazine. She can be emailed at

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