Ronda Rousey proved once again on Saturday why she is the star athlete of the Ultimate Fighting Champion league. It took only 34 seconds for Rousey to defeat her challenger, Bethe Correia — and on her opponent’s home turf.
As her star rises, Rousey could be the next big athlete for brand sponsorships and endorsements. For footwear, this means the now training-focused Reebok could capitalize on her buzz in and out of the ring. The athletic company signed a sponsorship agreement with the mixed martial arts league back in December.
“Ronda is the face of the UFC, and it’s certainly important to the deal. I don’t know the last time we had an athlete this dominant in a sport as Ronda has been,” said Matt Powell, a sports analyst at NPD Group. “I think now is the time to leverage her, especially coming off this victory.”
But despite the buzz, analysts are skeptical when it comes to Reebok. And that means they aren’t certain the brand has found its knockout in Rousey, despite her UFC success and ability to bridge popular culture with an acting career.
The company has struggled in recent years to resonate with the U.S. consumer, though last quarter sales increased 14.9 percent compared to the year ago period.
According to Susquehanna Financial analyst, Christopher Svezia, the challenges facing Reebok are deeper rooted and he thinks it’s too early to assume Rousey can help.
“I think Reebok as a brand is undergoing such a transformation, to sit here and say [Ronda’s win is] going to drive growth and revenues in the North American market because of this championship and her presence and popularity — I don’t know if it’s fair to say just yet,” Svezia said. “I think it’s a plus that she’s doing well and that she’s wearing Reebok.”
One of the major issues for Reebok continues to be the lack of market share and availability with the dominance of Nike and Under Armour.
“It’s true the women’s UFC is certainly a tough sport, and there is some cool factor from the rawness of the fighting. But I’m not sure it moves the needle on the average consumer’s purchase decision enough to switch brands to Reebok when they are looking at an Under Armour base layer or a pair of Nike basketball shoes in a retail store,” said Paul Swinand, a Morningstar analyst.
Another key problem is the narrowness of the UFC audience, though it is expanding. Despite Rousey’s dominance in the sport and acting push, what’s trending in the US market isn’t necessarily what Reebok is offering fans and athletes.
“If you look at what’s trending here, it’s athleisure, fitness, Under Armour, Nike, Lulu North Face. How close does Reebok come with sponsorship of Spartan races, Cross Fit and UFC that real mainstream commercial viability?” said Svezia. “How much of the target consumer demographic is really watching this and saying I need to go buy this product to either be like her? I think it’s a narrow segment of the market and it’s not reached a broad, commercially viable acceptance, yet.”
As Reebok continues to retool its business, Rousey may turn out to be a key for the brand image in the future, but market watchers aren’t certain that moment is quite as soon as the Saturday victory.