Branding and Fencing and Men, Oh My! (Part 1 of 2)

June 22, 2010

This post is NOT about fencing…per se.  It is about opportunity, marketing + promotion, branding, shifting paradigms, self-promotion, ambassadorship, achievement, influence, sacrifice, and a little philanthropy. Oh, and an elite fraternity of (rather handsome) men and (beautiful, kick-ass) women.

Last weekend, the Coupe du Monde (World Cup) of Fencing was held in New York City; Brooklyn, to be exact.  I wasn’t able to attend the entire weekend-long event, but I was able to spend several hours on Saturday watching the Men’s Sabre Finals and the Women’s Direct Elimination (DE) Sabre bouts. For me, it was an incredible opportunity to see the top sabre fencers from around the world compete in my backyard.

Steve Mormando (my coach), Dagmara Wozniak (seated) + Daria Schneider (on strip)

While I have only been fencing for a few years, I have been blessed to hold incredible proximity and association to these world-class athletes whom I respect and admire, and whose influence and mentorship inspire my journey in ways that they are largely unaware. Peter Westbrook, Steve Mormando (my coach), Tim Morehouse, Jason Rogers, Keeth and Erinn Smart, Dagmara (“Daga”) Wozniak, Daria Schneider and Mariel Zagunis have all touched my life in some way.  The privilege to watch them perform in this hemisphere and on this side of Greenwich Mean Time was a rarity and a treat.

But as I said, this post isn’t about fencing…really.

Opportunity is knocking down the damn door. Can somebody please answer it?

I have been to my share of fencing tournaments. For a sport that triggers association with attributes like chivalry and elegance, the reality of the event, itself, is decidedly neither of these. When en garde is demanded by a referee at the commencement of a bout, indeed, chivalry and elegance serve as the standard to which all most fencers engage their opponent. But most tournaments are unglamorous, sweaty, hurry-up-and-wait, eat-when-you-can, multiple day happenings. I don’t know why, but I expected to see at least some level of elevation at this event.

Hurry-up-and-wait...in action

The elegance of a hotel ballroom is infinitely more in line with perceptions of the sport then the average sports venue. However, this venue – the Brooklyn Marriott – was way too small for the number of attendees.  Similar to golf, the audience in fencing moves with the action. Often, significant bouts will happen concurrently, as was the case on Saturday. An engaged audience will literally run between the active strips to catch the action. Standing on chairs, cheering, and climbing over each other is not unusual and is exciting to experience, but because of the limitations of space in this case, it became a bit of a sport in itself.

I will admit that my nascent passion for the sport may color the optimism I hold for the opportunities I believe to exist.  But since becoming involved in fencing, I’ve recognized this weird mix of frustrated apathy and tenacious optimism that permeates the community.

Credit: Lynne Sladky / Associated Press (via latimes.com)

Those who fence, do so because they love it. While the face of fencing has changed significantly over the past 25 years, and now represents a broader demographic spectrum, fencing remains a strategy-intense sport where intellectual muscle can often out maneuver physical brawn. From where I sit, I watch as talented and dedicated individuals that managed to strike a balance during their academic pursuits simply move away from the sport after graduation because of a lack of support at any level of participation.  Likewise, I’ve seen the sacrifices made by those who remain in the sport and actively train to realize their full potential.  Sadly, there seems to come a time when an all-or-nothing decision has to be made.

Fencing is RIPE for sponsorship, yo. Seriously.

The Nike Ballestra Fencing Shoe (credit: Nike.com)

Dear Nike and Adidas: you’ve both developed state-of-the-art, aspirational, performance-based footwear for fencing; and yet, you were completely absent from this International event.  Oh sure, there was that other World Cup happening at the same time, but you have already spent the R+D dollars and have these shoes in production. Based on the wall-to-wall attendance to an under-advertised event, not only would event representation have impressed a thousand (or so) immediate eyeballs, but a mere peppering of the event across your media platform and a few co-op dollars toward greater advertising opportunities could have easily driven attendance by enthusiasts and the curious, alike.

Next Top Model (Switzerland, even)

Luxury brands looking to open the doors to new markets in fresh and inspired ways, here is your memo:  Fencing is aspirational and the potential audience is larger than you can imagine.  There is a HUGE opportunity to open the sport to a demographic who are incredibly curious about it – 25-45 year olds – in such a way that it aligns with many of the positive notions the general public understands the sport to be (elegant, aspirational, sexy, mysterious, physical – Note: Guestofaguest, one of several Morehouse/Rogers hosted Fencing Clinics in 2009 ).

Likewise, brands willing to invest in the opportunity to reach a younger, focused, and cross-cultural market through scholarship initiatives and meaningful reinforcement of positive behavior over a period of time help build a momentum in these young lives and become a touchstone of loyalty to those they have affected.  From here, the door of opportunity blows wide open.

The fencers I witnessed on Saturday were not merely an example of an elite group of athletes doing their thing. Most of them shoulder the economic burdens of travel, equipment, training, and participation costs while attempting to keep some level of progression in their still quite young (read: underpaid) professional lives.  These are not only the ambassadors of a sport, but they are educated, enthusiastic, passionate, and focused messengers for various causes and philanthropic efforts.  Many of these endeavors, such as Teach for America (Tim Morehouse) and The Peter Westbrook Foundation, aim to promote life success through education and achievement through sport by supporting access and opportunity to those who may not have the options many of us have.

Jason Rogers is "Sharing the Dream"

Even a little sponsored support would mean a lot, and not just to the quality of life for the athletes. Their journey, and any subsequent sacrifice made, has been by choice.  While that choice comes with a price tag of about $30,000 per year in expenses (above and beyond the “regular” cost of living we all maintain), most will agree that the sponsorship is not for them. Because of their athletic success, many are asked by schools and youth groups to speak about the sport, their individual successes (Olympics, etc), and give a little hands-on demonstration.  This is an opportunity for both the fencers and the students they reach.  The cost of this opportunity often falls on the fencer in a day of lost wages.  Through either expense management or event sponsorship, a platform of support could be created that would allow them to extend their reach. To a fencer, even the smallest advantage in reach may garner a touch.  That touch may help them win the bout.  If they win the bout, they will advance to the next round.  Every touch gets them closer to their goal.  This sense of achievement through singular accomplishment is a thread that runs through many of the charitable interests performed by those in the fencing community.

Source: Serge Timacheff/FencingPhotos.com (With permission: http://www.fencingphotos.com/shootingfencing.htm)

Wrist to wrist, all fencers are the same height and are in possession of similar abilities. Shielded by their masks, all fencers are the same race.  Cloaked in their white uniforms, all fencers are the same class.  When you understand the democracy in fencing, you begin to understand the opportunity for expansion – cultural and economic – that is inherent in the sport.

Part 2: Branding and Fencing and Men (Pounding the Red Carpet, Post-Beijing 2008) – will follow shortly!

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One Response to “Branding and Fencing and Men, Oh My! (Part 1 of 2)”


  1. […] 28, 2010 If you read my blog post on the Coupe du Monde of Fencing last week, you’ll understand why I’m posting the piece (link below) by Tim Morehouse. […]


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