The Business of Sports Club organized a memorable visit to the Reebok World Headquarters in Canton, MA, on Thursday, October 6. Over 40 HBS students took advantage of the opportunity to see the home of one of the world’s largest athletic-shoe and sports-apparel manufacturers, as well as some of its newest endorsers and products. The trip concluded with a shopping trip to the Reebok Corporate Store, which doubles as a testing ground for the company’s newest retail concepts, where students took home thousands of dollars worth of some of these products for themselves, all at 50 percent off the retail price.
The event was the brainchild Reebok VP Tagg Romney (HBS ’98), an HBS alum who runs the company’s prestigious Onfield Marketing group, which handles its exclusive sponsorship deals with the NBA, NFL, and NHL. Romney made his first HBS speaking appearance at last year’s Business of Sports conference and subsequently worked with the club’s newly elected officers to put together the visit to Reebok. In addition to making the event possible, he also provided the audience with some of the day’s most colorful moments.
Fresh out of a meeting with Celtics VP of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge, Romney took some time to discuss his own path to Reebok, which included stints in consulting, start-ups, and his father’s successful gubernatorial campaign. He also gave students a behind-the-scenes look at some of Reebok’s most popular advertising spots. He talked about the four-day mad rush responsible for the creation of the highly popular “Be A Saint” ad which ran during the NFL’s Hurricane Katrina telethon, and he also previewed new ads featuring NFL stars such as Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis.
Also present at the event were a host of other managers and recent business school graduates, including senior executives Gene McCarthy, RBK Brand Manager (and former Brand Manager for Nike’s Jordan line) and Larry Gore, Retail business manager. McCarthy talked about the highly competitive nature of the footwear industry while Gore gave a rapid-fire summary of Reebok’s immense efforts worldwide to increase its retail presence, showing the audience photos and concept drawings of stores everywhere from New York to Indonesia.
Across the board, Reebok personnel described themselves as being in the “human-experience business” and detailed how this approach drove their product development, marketing, and retail efforts. Stories of both successful and unsuccessful best practices were shared, and much time was spent discussing how Reebok has been able to lock in long-term exclusive contracts with the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball League (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL). Reebok owns the Rockport, CCM, and Arnold Palmer brand names.
Arguably, the highlight of the day came when Reebok’s VP of design led the entire group on a detailed walking tour through many parts of the five-years old headquarters building, which has won several design awards and is even the subject of an architectural publication. Reebok employees and sponsored athletes are encouraged to take advantage of the on-campus facilities, including a full NBA-sized indoor basketball court, work-out facilities, Olympic regulation outdoor track, softball field, and soccer field. Often, these facilities also serve as a testing ground for new product durability and life cycle.
Not surprisingly, the visit gave sports fans the chance to “ooh” and “aah” at some of the Reebok endorsers and products that will be front and center in the upcoming weeks. Although frequent visitors such as Allen Iverson, 50 Cent, and Patriots backup quarterback Doug Flutie were not present on this day, the HBS group did get a sneak peak at the uniforms which will be used in this year’s NBA All-Star game. Also, several HBS students encountered Gerald Green, the highly touted first-round draft pick of the Boston Celtics. Green, an athletic leaper who has already drawn comparisons to Houston Rockets superstar Tracy McGrady, was on his way to a meeting with Ainge, Romney and others to discuss endorsement possibilities for himself and other members of the Celtics.