So why all the fuss when an obstacle race company gets named a title sponsor?
It all started when the Fiesta Bowl (presented on January 1 in Glendale, Arizona) announced BattleFrog as its title sponsor. The company, which produces obstacle races for adults and children, secured a late-breaking one-year sponsorship; in fact, the deal was finalized over the Thanksgiving Day weekend, a time when most sponsorships had been locked in for months.
The sports community’s reaction was nothing short of an open-mouthed stare, according to the Miami Herald, which noted:
The Phoenix Business Journal’s headline of the announcement read: “ESPN inks obscure sponsor for Fiesta Bowl.” An article in New York’s Newsday, “Bowling for Dollars — And Product Recognition,” says: “What is BattleFrog? An obstacle race series. And what is an obstacle race series? Umm…”
But BattleFrog is a name that at least the obstacle race community, they of the mud runs, knows well. And in fact, according to an article in The Arizona Republic, organizers say it’s a natural fit.
BattleFrog CEO Ramiro Ortiz, a former banker who served on the Orange Bowl's organizing committee for more than 20 years, said the company's new partnership helps tie it more closely to the kind of athletes who take part in their events, which are modeled after courses used by Navy SEALs.
"What could be a better fit for our company?" Ortiz said. "Our target audience for our BattleFrog obstacle course race series are the Millennials and people that believe in health and fitness. ... It's a natural."
BattleFrog principals are betting that this title sponsorship not only will help their brand compete with some of the leaders in the relatively new obstacle race industry — including the Spartan Race, Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder (known in industry parlance as ‘the big three’) — but that it also will help the brand leap into the national consciousness.
“It’s a brilliant move for BattleFrog,” said Larry Mann, executive vice president of rEvolution, a Chicago-based integrated sports marketing and media firm. “And it should be a great lesson to all B-list marketers that traditionally don’t have big budgets that when a great opportunity presents itself, and you can find the right angle, jump in and do it. And do it right.”
BattleFrog’s decision looked even more enviable when the New Year’s Day matchup at the University of Phoenix Stadium was announced: No. 8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes. (The Buckeyes triumphed, 44-28, and BattleFrog got unbelievable amounts of exposure. Everyone won – except perhaps Notre Dame.) In addition, pregame activities included hosting a fanfest at the University of Phoenix Stadium, with an obstacle course that fans young and old could try. The investment was solid.
And make no mistakes: bowl sponsorship is an investment. Despite the fact that neither BattleFrog nor the Fiesta Bowl officials would reveal financial terms, the Miami Herald article speculated the price tag was probably in the $3 million to $5 million range.
To date, there hasn’t been a mention of repeat sponsorship.
"We obviously would like to have a long-term deal, but the specifics of that we really need to keep confidential," Ortiz told The Arizona Republic.
This wasn’t BattleFrog’s first foray into the media consciousness. The company initially gained wide exposure when ESPN televised several of its events, pitting 16 collegiate teams against each other, on two of its channels this past summer. The network has since said it plans to show more BattleFrog competitions this year. Other obstacle race syndicates have brokered their own television deals. In 2015, Spartan Race partnered with Reebok and was featured on NBC Sports Network, with episodes covering six separate races.
The obstacle racing industry as a whole is continuing to expand. Obstacle Racing Media’s Matt Davis noted in an article in Sports Destination Management, “We know the market for what is called ‘non-traditional races’ is growing; just last year, Running USA released inaugural research on what it termed “non-traditional races.” Non-traditional races were those that varied from the classic, timed events such as 5Ks, 10Ks, marathons, etc.; examples would include untimed themed runs and (obstacle course races). The report stated that over the course of five years, “the number of estimated finishers in U.S. non-traditional events has grown from low six figures in 2009 to a staggering 4 million in 2013, a nearly hard-to-believe 40-fold increase. In addition, a handful of mass participation adventure series in 2009 has rapidly expanded to more than 35 non-traditional or themed running series.”
The sport is poised for growth. BattleFrog may have been the first obstacle race company to sponsor a mainstream sports event, but it is doubtful they’ll be the last, given the success of the venture.
"It's not a household name or a product category. You've not seen an events producer take a large naming rights deal like this, but I think it speaks to how hot right now that category is," said Jim Andrews, senior vice president at IEG, a Chicago-based sponsorship research company. "These extreme fitness events, obstacle course events have got a lot of competition in that space. ... (BattleFrog is) not the biggest brand in that space, but this will definitely help them establish themselves. You hadn't heard of them before today, and now we're all talking about them."