Marketing & Sponsorships

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After USA Triathlon’s Announcement, Get Ready for More NGB/CBD Partnerships

30 Oct, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

We’ve seen cannabis products as sponsors of marathons and cycling companies. We’ve seen a whole golf course dedicated as a cannabis-friendly space. So it was only a matter of time until a national governing body developed a formal relationship.

Last week, USA Triathlon became the first U.S. NGB in the Olympic and Paralympic movement to formalize a partnership with a CBD (cannabidiol) manufacturer, aligning with Pure Spectrum CBD through 2023.

Pure Spectrum, based in Evergreen, Colorado, is at the forefront of CBD’s burgeoning presence in the sports industry. It became the first cannabis company to partner with a major sports organization following its sponsorship of the 2018 Reebok CrossFit Games. Pure Spectrum also sponsors more than 100 professional athletes including Australian UFC fighter Megan Anderson and six-time Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) World Champion Hunter McIntyre.

Cannabis is being marketed as a way for individuals to cope with anxiety, depression, chronic pain and inflammation, and to aid in recovery from exertion.

Which, of course, begs the question – how does a cannabis product create a relationship within the vehemently anti-substance space of the USOPC?

USA Triathlon states that it selected Pure Spectrum because its products are made from industrial hemp containing no THC (the main psychoactive compound in cannabis), which means there is no chance of a user high. Products include topicals, tinctures and isolates, and are available in regular and high-potency formulas.

USA Triathlon, in jumping aboard the CBD train, joins a number of organizations that are taking advantage of the new trend. In April 2019, the NHL Alumni Association announced it was creating a clinical partnership with Canopy Growth Corp. to test the effectiveness of cannabinoids on retired players who are suffering from problems relating to concussions sustained during games. (When Canada legalized recreational marijuana in October 2018, National Hockey League officials said the new law wouldn’t affect the league’s drug-testing policy run in conjunction with the NHL Players’ Association – so this was a natural extension of that ruling).

Elite athletes are not only using CBD, but they’re also getting in on the business end by developing their own signature brands or signing deals with CBD companies. In fact, Megan Rapinoe, a U.S. women’s soccer player and the 2019 FIFA Women’s Player of the Year award winner, announced that she and her twin sister, Rachael, are launching a CBD brand, Mendi – making her the first athlete in the soccer space to embrace the growing phenom.

The intersection of cannabis and sports was first covered by SDM back in 2014, when the concept of marijuana tourism came into existence. (Some CVBs, including Visit Bend in Bend, Oregon, already had a section of their website devoted to marijuana.) And this paradigm shift in the industry brought a brand-new conundrum for owners of youth sports events, as well as faith-based conferences, who had to decide whether hosting events in states where marijuana was legal – and using hotels that included special spaces for consumption – could cause a problem. As states increasingly began legalizing cannabis (for medical and/or recreational use), the issue evolved.

It wasn’t until September of 2017 that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) made the announcement that CBD would no longer be on the list of prohibited substances for use during competition. This opened the door not just to athletes but to events, now able to tap into a new revenue stream.

By April of 2018, the first a cannabis brand had signed on a sponsor of an endurance sports event. Human Potential LLC, an event management company that hosts The Human Potential Running Series, announced that Colorado-based Elixinol was an official sponsor of their series of events. Human Potential said it was the first time that an ultra race or ultra race series had been officially sponsored by a cannabis brand. Beating that event, however, was Bank of America, when in 2015, it allowed Illinois-based medical cannabis cultivation company Cresco Labs to sponsor the Chicago Marathon.

Of course, there are some events that are created specifically around cannabis. The Civilized Games (formerly the 420 Games), presented recently at the Santa Monica Pier, is a multi-sport event that includes obstacle racing, a run/walk, yoga, fitness classes and boot camp – and includes opportunities to partake of cannabis on a recreational and medicinal level.

So what can we expect of the ever-growing industry? At the moment, the bubble isn’t bursting. And when it comes to national news, you can expect it’ll pop up as a topic of discussion in the 2020 elections. But in terms of sports, there appears to be no common denominator among various leagues and disciplines. Here are some salient points:

  • The NFL is still mulling over the question of whether players can use marijuana. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the league is hesitant to make any ruling – and shows no signs of setting a deadline to make such an announcement.
  • Back in June, the BIG3, the professional 3-on-3 basketball league that features former NBA players, announced it would permit the use of CBD for pain management and recovery. This made it the first pro league in the country to legalize CBD usage for its players.
  • About 150 pro athletes petitioned the WADA to drop marijuana from its list of prohibited substances.
  • In Hawaii, state health officials had to call a meeting in September to remove unregulated CBD products from stores following illnesses associated with vaping. (There is no CBD oversight in Hawaii, health officials said, and untested products could pose health risks.)

The CBD train is showing no indication of slowing down in the foreseeable future, and it’s certain we haven’t seen the last of this issue. Expect announcements from other NGBs; pundits are already noting that sports compatible with triathlon and with training for multisport events may be good candidates for CBD partnerships in the future.

SDM will continue to follow this developing issue.

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