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Sparking Convo: Athletic Apparel and the Niche Marketing Caper

So, let’s get one thing straight here: Cheerleading is a sport. Okay?

…or at least competitive cheerleading is.

(If you’d like to go head-to-head on this, I’d be happy to arrange it – but in the meantime, for the purposes of this blog post, just roll with me because regardless of whether or not you think cheerleading is a sport, it is inarguably a business.)

Much like other athletes, cheerleaders invest great amounts of money in their sport: sneakers, game day uniforms, competition uniforms, warm up suits, sweat suits, bows, and so on. Then consider the costs of travel and accommodations for teams to attend multiple competitions throughout the year. Think about the influence of athletic scholarships have on encouraging these student athletes to attend universities. Not to mention the pop cultural influence with iconic teen movies like Bring It On.

Click the title to read more…

Huge sums of money are being spent in the name of cheerleading every year. (You’re welcome, economy!)

But again, this is not why I’m writing.

Growing up as a cheerleader, participating in what some may consider a niche sport, I became familiar with niche brands, like Kaepa – a brand that specializes in sneakers and apparel, exclusively for the niche market of cheerleading and volleyball. There are even brands like Varsity that own the market (monopolize for all intents and purposes) of cheerleading uniform production, while also expanding into other accessories and apparel.

But most people have never heard of these brands. Why? Because specializing to such a specific target audience segment allows Kaepa and Varsity to compete with the big boys in the athletic apparel industry – like Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, and Champion, just to name a few.

These industry giants put out cheerleading sneakers too. In fact, I have been on teams that opted for a style of Nikes over Kaepas because my coaches perceived Nike shoes, being Nike, as better quality. Also, because Nike is Nike, the styles they chose were sometimes more cost effective than the “specialty” brands.

Yet, this brand differentiation is common for every sport. If you’re new to a sport, you’re going to want to buy gear from a brand that a) sounds reputable and b) offers a decent deal on products, in case this new hobby doesn’t pan out.  Once you become a more avid snowboarder, you know which boards are the best or at least which boards distinguish the pros from the posers. This is where many of us start to develop our brand loyalties (what does using Brand X say about me?). Also at this point, you may be more willing to invest in quality gear, so price point won’t be as much of an influential factor.

In closing, I leave you with some food for thought…

When it comes down to it, do brands actually affect performance?

Theoretically, athletic gear is designed with a sport in mind to enhance performance. Some brands may certainly have science to support claims that their bats hit balls farther or their sneakers make you jump higher. But at the end of the day, I believe it’s all about heart (and marketing).

I have always thought that an athlete’s performance is a reflection of attitude, desire, and effort. But it’s hard to deny that having a brand new pair of rockstar cleats may change the way you feel about yourself – especially if they are the cleats of your dreams, such as the same ones the Olympians wear.

In this case, the shoes don’t make the man. Marketing does.

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