Sports Sponsorships: Kicking It Up a Notch

Cover story

Direct sellers, especially those with nutritional products, have long counted athletes as some of their biggest fans. By landing high-profile sponsorships with Major League Soccer teams, Olympic gold medalists and IndyCar drivers, direct selling companies are enhancing both their businesses and their brands.

No matter whether the athletes are members of a team or individual sport, they demand a lot of their bodies. They must bounce back from injuries quickly, endure grueling physical tests and stay mentally focused. And they have to do all that while maintaining a killer travel schedule that makes nutritious eating and even getting regular rest, well, a challenge. With a lifestyle like that, carefully chosen supplements become an important competitive advantage.

So when an athlete or team discovers a high-quality product from a direct seller, both the athlete and the team can benefit.

The companies who spoke with Direct Selling News are justifiably proud of their sports sponsorships. The sponsorships and endorsements run the gamut from soccer teams to bodybuilders, and from race car drivers to rodeo cowboys. International companies usually have sponsorships that span the interests of their global constituencies. And the athletes themselves sing the praises of the products and the company because they genuinely believe in them. Those Air Jordans netted Michael some megabucks, but athletes and teams who lend their names to direct sellers’ supplements typically are compensated only with the products they use.

Olly Freeman

Fan-ning the Flames

Perhaps the industry’s most visible sponsorship is the Herbalife name emblazoned on the front of the shirts of the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team. That jersey has now become the top-selling Adidas sports jersey of all time, raising awareness of Herbalife worldwide. Just as important to the company, it’s been a huge boost to distributor confidence and pride.

“Whenever a game is televised around the world, it gives us all goose bumps when we see Herbalife on the Galaxy jersey,” says Des Walsh, Executive Vice President for Herbalife’s Worldwide Operations and Sales.
Herbalife became active in sports sponsorships five years ago when then-new Chairman and CEO Michael O. Johnson, an avid triathlete, inspired the company to become a sponsor of the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. Since then, it has helped fund numerous events and has developed about 65 different sponsorship agreements worldwide. Major soccer sponsorships alone include Valencia CF, one of Spain’s most popular football teams; Internazionale FC (Inter Milan) in Italy; and FC Strasbourg in France, as well as the Galaxy. Around the world it supports professional cycling and basketball teams, as well as individual world-class athletes in sports that range from arm-wrestling to volleyball.
Aspiring athletes also benefit from Herbalife’s sponsorships. About 600,000 kids participate in the American Youth Soccer Organization, where the only requirement is that participants want to play soccer. Herbalife is a premier sponsor, and its official provider of health, wellness and nutrition products.
In addition, its distributors sometimes sponsor a wide range of individual local athletes and teams.

Sponsorships of pro and world-class athletes typically begin when Herbalife learns that the athlete is using one or more of the company’s products.

“We’re not interested in an athlete’s endorsement unless they’re products of the product,” Walsh explains. “Over the years, many athletes around the world have been customers of Herbalife distributors. As they have risen through the ranks through their performance, they have reached a stature that makes it worthwhile for us to be associated with them.”


Team Spirit

Other direct sellers echo Herbalife’s approach.

Trent Tenney, 4Life Senior Vice President of Marketing, notes that an athlete’s ability to stay well is tested on the competition field. “When we hear of athletes who are using Transfer Factor to be sure they aren’t going to break down, we’re interested,” he says. “For example, [San Francisco Giants shortstop] Edgar Renteria came to us and said that he had an amazing experience with 4Life Transfer Factor and was able to stay on the field more days of the year. He understands the connection between the immune system and the challenges that athletes have.”

RenteriaRenteria is the newest member of Team 4Life—an elite group of world-famous athletes who endorse 4Life Transfer Factor® products. The team includes World Golf Hall of Famer Johnny Miller; Ian-Baker Finch, winner of the British Open and winner on all four major tours; four-time Olympic medalist Mark Todd, an equestrian who competed in his fifth Olympics at age 52; and Brett Burton and Andrew McLeod, stars of the Adelaide Crows Australian Football Club.

“When you take a world-renowned athlete and show distributors that they use the products, it’s a wonderful way to edify the decision they’ve made to partner with 4Life,” notes Calvin Jolley, 4Life Vice President, Strategic Development. He emphasizes that the company carefully selects athletes to add to its short roster of endorsers. “There’s a vetting process. There are well-known athletes who are taking our products who aren’t a good fit for Team 4Life. We’re not looking for just anyone who has a claim to fame. When you tie an athlete to a product, they become a brand ambassador. How they perform in public and who they are becomes a representation of your brand.”

No Dope

USANA began selecting athletes to endorse products some 15 years ago, beginning with the Canadian speedskating team that was competing in the Olympics. At that time, Olympians were skeptical of supplements because they feared that the nutritionals would cause them to test positive for banned substances. The Olympians were interested in the company’s products because it offered them an ironclad solution through its Athlete Guarantee Program.

“We don’t make any other products than our supplements, so there’s less opportunity for a contaminant to get in that could be questionable in sports,” explains Alan Bergstrom, USANA Vice President of Customer Service. “I don’t believe that anyone is making supplements are purposely contaminating, but when a company makes other products, their supplements can become contaminated. We make all our tablet products and all the Athlete Guarantee products in-house. It’s a great selling point.”

He notes that USANA recently started an even more stringent testing program with an outside lab known for its testing capabilities and identification of banned substances in supplements. He notes that labs are becoming able to detect smaller and smaller amounts of substances, so more stringent testing offers an athlete yet another assurance.
“We offer basic vitamins and minerals, not sports supplements,” Bergstrom notes. “They help athletes and others meet basic daily nutrition requirements, but if you want to be able to take a supplement and not worry about ingesting a banned substance, look at our quality.”

USANA endorsements are primarily from well-known Olympic athletes. Because their sponsorships often include entire teams, some 650 athletes are involved in its sports sponsorship programs. But anti-doping standards are rigorous in professional sports, too, and USANA products are also endorsed in that arena. In fact, the company sponsors the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Bergstrom says that tennis is known as a “clean” sport that is serious about maintaining that reputation, so it makes a perfect vehicle to demonstrate product purity and effectiveness to distributors and customers.


All-Star Endorsements

AdvoCare also recognized the importance of assuring athletes that its products were pure, so it formed a strategic alliance with Informed-Choice to certify that its products are banned-substance free. The Informed-Choice program adheres to regulations put forth by the World Anti-Doping Agency and NCAA as well as professional sports organizations.

The certification of AdvoCare’s pure products helps clear the way for athletes to use the products and make endorsements. AdvoCare products are endorsed by athletes such as New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees; Olympic gold-medal-winning U.S. women’s soccer team midfielder Carli Lloyd; and Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd, whose USA men’s basketball team took the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. Those three are among about 75 athletes who endorse AdvoCare products.

AdvoCare will take its sports sponsorship to a new level on Dec. 28 when it sponsors the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl, a post-season NCAA-endorsed Division I college football bowl game that has featured top college teams for the past 34 years. ESPN will televise the game, and the company’s logo has in-your-face placement throughout the stadium. The company chose the opportunity to boost its branding.

“The company is all about independence from debt and poor health, so the name seemed to fit us,” says AdvoCare Director of Endorsements Rob Graf.  “Already, we have the AdvoBus touring every Saturday to a different college football game in an area where we have strong leadership. We have a big tailgate party around the bus. It all leads up to the Independence Bowl. We’ll be organizing mixer events in distributor households around the game. That night when we’re on national TV will be a huge opportunity for our distributors. Whether they’re one person at home or they’re with 150 in a hotel, every distributor who wants to can be involved.”

Getting Official

Sports sponsorships were also a natural for Vemma®. Its energy drink Verve! is now the official energy drink for three professional sports teams in the company’s hometown: the Phoenix Suns basketball team, the Phoenix Coyotes ice hockey team and the Phoenix Mercury women’s national basketball team.

Vemma has energetically pursued the connections, taking them well beyond providing beverages to the teams. At US Airways Center, home of the Suns, fans can enjoy the game in a nightclub setting called the Verve Energy Lounge™. Vemma and Verve branding appears prominently in the stadium. And perhaps even more impressive, the Suns franchise is actually a Vemma distributor. Verve is on sale at its arena during home games, as well as over the Web through an ad that links to the Verve Web site.

Verve also presents, a social networking site where Phoenix Mercury fans build their own profile pages, write blogs, participate in message board discussions and upload Mercury-related photos, artwork and videos. Fans also can purchase Verve at Café by clicking through to The Phoenix Mercury plays in US Airways Center, so Mercury fans also have exposure to all the same Verve promotions that Suns fans enjoy, including the Verve Energy Lounge.

The Coyotes’ agreement is similar. Verve is sold at all concession stands and luxury suites throughout Arena and will be available in the arena’s two premium club rooms. Coyotes fans across North America are encouraged to learn more about Verve and the Coyotes’ home-delivery option by visiting

“It’s such a unique part of our program,” says Vemma President and CEO BK Boreyko. “It empowers our members with instant credibility so they feel confident talking about the products with anyone. Even better, when people discover that these teams have actually signed up as members, they immediately come to the conclusion that this business model is something they need to seriously take a look at for themselves. I mean, if it’s good enough for the Suns, how can any prospect not see the potential?”

Boreyko also notes that sports sponsorships open a new market for the company and its products.

“Marketing Verve with sports teams and athletes has allowed us to reach audiences that we may not have normally been able to reach through our traditional marketing efforts,” he says. “The level of energy and brand loyalty that sports fans have is impacting our overall company and brand.”

Vemma’s sports sponsorship program also extends to the PGA Pro Tour and member Ricky Barnes. Sporting Verve gear, Barnes introduced the golf world to Verve as he finished second in the U.S. Open. And San Diego Chargers linebacker and three-time Pro Bowl player Shawne Merriman stepped beyond being a spokesman to becoming a member.
Beyond professional sports, Verve sponsors youth snowboard teams, and is the official energy drink of the Arena Football League’s L.A. Avengers and the Native American Basketball Invitational tournament, as well as of other groups.

Drew BreesAll-American Endorsement

Football, basketball, hockey, even golf. What’s missing? Baseball, of course. But MonaVie couldn’t ignore the all-American pastime. Its new all-natural energy drink MonaVie EMV ™ is now the official healthy energy drink of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. MonaVie never misses an opportunity to raise awareness and money for its charitable foundation, the MORE project, so it linked the sponsorship to an auction that gave MonaVie distributors a chance to win one of several premium baseball game packages. The top prize even included throwing out the first pitch of a game.

Last year, MonaVie announced a partnership with the Boston Red Sox that makes MonaVie an official juice of the Major League Baseball team. This year, the company capitalized on the agreement by taking MonaVie’s top six Star Maker distributorships to Fenway Park. The distributors flew first-class to Tampa Bay, Fla., where they joined MonaVie Founders Dallin and Karree Larsen for a trip on the MonaVie Jet to Boston. There, they stayed at a luxurious hotel and attended the Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees game at Fenway Park with Dallin and Karree.

Numerous individual athletes in professional sports ranging from football to bodybuilding to rodeo are MonaVie endorsers. Many of the endorsers are also MonaVie distributors. One of the latest agreements is with IndyCar driver Tomas Scheckter. (Please see “Racing to Recognition”  sidebar.)

MonaVie executives see a sports tie-in as a natural for the company.

“The overwhelming majority of our distributors describe themselves as being in exceptional health,” explains Founder and Vice Chairman Henry Marsh, a four-time U.S. Olympian. “When they’re not hosting tasting parties, more than likely, you’ll find them out on the green or at the local fitness center. It’s part of the MonaVie culture. Sports sponsorships help our distributors connect with like-minded health enthusiasts. It only makes sense to partner with some of the most recognized names in sports—the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Angels and the Indy League. These sponsorships give MonaVie distributors an additional opportunity to network. There’s a growing enthusiasm for MonaVie products among professional and amateur athletes, and sports sponsorships fuel the momentum.”

VerveBrand Building

Direct sellers have found many ways to utilize their sports sponsorships, and industry leader Amway and its North American affiliate, Amway Global, have an extensive program to support branding efforts. Although Amway isn’t typically thought of as a health and wellness company, it is actually the No. 1 online retailer in health and beauty in the United States, according to Internet Retailer. Its numerous sports sponsorships in the United States and around the world help underscore that message.

Its sponsorships raise awareness of Amway and its NUTRILITE® brand through on-jersey sponsorships, venue signage and media relations. Amway also leverages the sponsorships to build excitement with Amway independent business owners in a variety of marketing materials.

“Sports sponsorships make tremendous sense for Amway because we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, yet many people don’t really know who we are,” an Amway spokesperson commented via e-mail. “We haven’t really engaged in traditional advertising or consumer marketing over the years, and we are reintroducing ourselves to the public through a variety of initiatives, including national advertising, public relations campaigns, Mobile Brand Experiences and sports sponsorships.”

Because of the global reach of both the sport and the company, soccer seems to be Amway’s sponsorship sport-of-choice. Amway Global is the presenting sponsor of the Los Angeles Sol, a member of the Women’s Professional Soccer League. Sol forward and three-time Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Player of the Year Marta Viera da Silva endorses the company’s health and beauty power brands, NUTRILITE and ARTISTRY®. It also sponsors the San Jose Earthquakes, A.C. Milan—which has won the largest number of international trophies in history—and its two-time FIFA Player of the Year, forward Ronaldinho.

Through an exclusive, two-year agreement between NUTRILITE and the Milanello Training Sports Center, NUTRILITE products are fully integrated into the training and nutritional regimens of every player on A.C. Milan. The Milanello Training Sports Center is home to Milan Labs, a research center focusing on the psychophysical integrity of athletes.
Amway’s sponsorships in both soccer and other sports are numerous, but one of the most visible is the NUTRILITE sponsorship of the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series, seven races that incorporate miles with music, as well as four other prominent distance-running events. The NUTRILITE Mobile Brand Experience vehicle is present at each race and provides event attendees with product samples, brand exposure and perks for runners.

Ricky and Dandy

When distributors use endorsements
as part of their business
presentations, that tells a company
 that they work. Likewise, when
 distributors sponsor local athletes
and teams, it’s clear that they see a return on their investment.

Sports Stories

Direct sellers typically leverage their sports sponsorships in their marketing, publishing endorsement quotes in company literature and Web sites or inviting athletes to speak at company events. Sometimes the athlete’s story is so memorable that it is retold over and over. The one that Herbalife’s Des Walsh remembers vividly was the testimonial from IndyCar driver Townsend Bell. One of Bell’s favorite Herbalife products is the H3O® Fitness drink, which he credits with helping him stay on the track after his hydration pump broke early in this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Bell was wearing a special suit designed to protect him from fire, sitting on top of a race car engine just 4 inches off the ground in a concrete stadium where the temperature reaches 90 degrees or more. Driving at 140 miles an hour, he had to keep his hands on the steering wheel at all times for hours on end, so he kept a tube from his hydration pump in his mouth at all times so he could drink from it and stay hydrated during the race.

“The hydration pump actually broke down, but because he was so well hydrated with H3O, he elected not to take a pit stop to replace the faulty pump,” Walsh recalls. “Because of the effect of H3O, he could maintain hydration and concentration, and he ran fourth in one of the most competitive races on earth.”


Checking the Score

Direct sellers acknowledge that the value of sports sponsorships is hard to measure. Amway and 4Life had the most structured measurement programs of the companies that spoke with Direct Selling News.

Amway evaluates the effectiveness of its endorsements through the number of media impressions earned by the endorsements and the relevancy of those impressions. Media impressions measure the number of people who may have seen an article, heard something on the radio or in a podcast, watched something on television, or read something on a Web page or blog. 4Life builds and measures product promotions around Team 4Life, and it makes a point of measuring the “hits” on its Web site on featured athletes.

But the metric that matters most is the opinion of distributors. When distributors use endorsements as part of their business presentations, that tells a company that they work. Likewise, when distributors sponsor local athletes and teams, it’s clear that they see a return on their investment.

AdvoCare’s Graf captured the attitude represented by every company: “I love hearing stories from distributors. Several top distributors have told me, ‘I was on the fence about AdvoCare until I saw the story of an athletic endorser in an AdvoCare magazine. That flipped the switch for me.’ It changes people’s lives because it gets them involved.”

CEO Tami Longaberger is joined, from left, by former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Reggie Langhorne, quarterback Bernie Kosar and defensive back Hanford Dixon at the Longaberger tailgate party in Cleveland held in late summer. Tami Longaberger and Kosar have participated in a number of tailgate events the company is holding around the country to promote the new NFL, collegiate and Team Spirit collections.

Team Spirit in a Basket

The Longaberger Company has launched a way for its consultants and customers to combine two passions: Longaberger baskets and sports. It has teamed with the National Football League on a collection of basket sets featuring all 32 NFL teams.

The new NFL Lineup series of baskets is the latest member of Longaberger’s “Fan Favorites” offerings, which also includes the Longaberger Collegiate Series and the Longaberger Team Spirit baskets. Nine basket styles and accessories are included in each line. According to Longaberger, the basket sets are a functional, fun and decorative way for fans to support their teams at tailgating parties or at home.

TS-Steelers-3bkt-grp-8203.jpgThe NFL baskets display team colors on the baskets with official logos engraved on accompanying hardwood maple lids. In its collegiate line, Longaberger baskets sport the official logos of Ohio State University, Michigan State University, Indiana University, University of Iowa and Virginia Tech, with other universities becoming available soon. The Team Spirit line lets fans choose among baskets that feature 21 color combinations, selecting the one that lets them show support for their high school or community team.

Longaberger launched the new lines through a series of huge tailgate parties at pro and college games around the country. Local home consultants helped organize the events, and Longaberger CEO Tami Longaberger attended and signed baskets. Longaberger’s spokesman says that the new product line has been a huge success.

“We have made some significant investments in the last year and a half in the basket-making process to offer a variety of designs and different colors,” says Tom Matthews, Longaberger Executive Director of Corporate Communications. “This is an example of some of the things we’re able to do as a result of those investments.”

The new product lines have let the company reach a new set of customers—sports fans who may not have considered baskets as part of the game-party decor until now. After football season ends, basketball begins, and March Madness provides yet another  occasion to use team-color baskets to serve snacks and beverages.

“It’s no secret that the baskets tend to be purchased by women more than men,” Matthews notes. “But we’re hearing consultants say, ‘I bought four baskets for my son and husband for Christmas. They’re going to love this.’ Would she have normally purchased that basket? Probably not. But now she’s feeling that she can share Longaberger with the men in her life in a different way. It’s been a fun and exciting thing so far.”

Racing to Recognition

Two prominent direct sellers have captured the excitement of IndyCar racing and grabbed their share of the name recognition among racing’s huge fan base.

Herbalife and MonaVie each sponsored drivers—Townsend Bell and Tomas Scheckter, respectively—in the Indianapolis 500. Both drivers powered vehicles emblazoned with their sponsoring company’s names throughout the 500-mile, 3.5-hour race. Venezuelan IndyCar driver E.J. Viso also endorses Herbalife products.

There’s no doubt that race car drivers are athletes whose bodies take a beating. For example, on an oval, IndyCar Series drivers endure G-forces equal to nearly four times the weight of gravity while going through turns. The space shuttle leaves the launching pad at Cape Canaveral with approximately the same force. And drivers must stay hydrated, well-nourished and mentally focused to concentrate at speeds of more than 200 miles an hour.

Did MonaVie and Herbalife products help the drivers perform? Let the record speak for itself. Herbalife’s Bell finished fourth, while Scheckter, helping to introduce the new brand MonaVie EMV, was close behind, finishing 12th.

Healthy Heroes

Encouraging healthy lifestyles is key to many direct sellers who offer nutrition products, so sports sponsorships help them deliver that message. And since so many direct sellers offer top-notch supplements and nutrition products, it’s no wonder so many companies have strong supporters among individual athletes and teams. The list is extensive, and while we couldn’t include every company, here are a few that exemplify the depth and breadth of sports sponsorships in the industry.


More than 125 staff scientists, plus independent laboratories and scientists from around the world, ensure that Pharmanex products don’t contain any banned substances. So a large group of elite athletes known as “Pharmanex Champions” endorse the products. Olympic athletes, world-class professional athletes, Duke University’s men’s basketball, and the 21 varsity sports at Brigham Young University all participate in the program. Represented sports from around the world range from Norway’s Vålerenga ice hockey team to American overall junior snowboarding champion Chris Klug to elite cyclists and runners.


“The jersey-front sponsorship has always
 been referred to as the ‘Holy Grail.’ When
 the owner of the Real Salt Lake soccer
 team approached us as a possible sponsor,
 it was a real fork in the road because a
 professional sponsorship on a jersey,
while very common in other parts of the
 world, had never been done in America.”

XanGo Co-Founder Aaron Garrity   


It’s all about the brand at XanGo, which expanded its brand presence through a landmark jersey-front title sponsorship deal with Major League Soccer and Real Salt Lake, the first of its kind in major league U.S. professional sports. As part of the sponsorship, XanGo built and donated a practice facility for Real Salt Lake, located on XanGo’s Utah campus. The multiyear deal includes signage and promotional opportunities at the team’s sports and entertainment venue, Rio Tinto Stadium. Additionally, XanGo and RSL will continue the annual tradition of the XanGo Cup, which pairs RSL and an international soccer powerhouse in a friendly match. This year’s XanGo Cup, the fourth, featured Clúb América, Mexico’s premier soccer club.


Tahitian Noni

With operations in more than 30 countries, it makes sense that Tahitian Noni’s sports sponsorships would span many countries, as well. Its sponsored athletes come from Norway, China, Jamaica, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Brazil, the United States and other countries. Their sports include everything from mixed martial arts to basketball to cross-country skiing to surfing. The common link is that all the athletes use Tahitian Noni products to help them stay in championship form.


Although the company is probably better known for its environmental advocacy, Shaklee is a champion when it comes to sports sponsorships, too. Its endorsers include the U.S. Ski Team® and the U.S. Snowboarding Team™; a wheelchair racer; a Masters athlete in cycling who is still going strong and winning championships in his early 50s; a world-class competitor in the sport of Modern Pentathlon; a pioneer in the professional wakeboarding tour; and several others. The athletes often point to Shaklee products as their not-so-secret weapons that help them recover quickly and maintain long, high-performing careers.


Jennifer Azzi

Endorser Evolution

Direct sellers have an athlete’s heart, or at least their skill set, according to Jennifer Azzi. She should know. She evolved from USANA user to endorser to Ruby Director distributor.
Azzi’s athletic accomplishments underscore her attitude toward direct selling. She earned a gold medal as a member of the U.S. women’s basketball team in the 1996 Olympics, led her Stanford University team to an NCAA National Championship and her WNBA teams to conference finals, played internationally, and was repeatedly named to All-Star teams. Her awards include Female Athlete of the Year, the Naismith Award, five different Hall of Fame inductions, and more.

While she was playing for the WNBA’s Utah Starzz, her strength coach searched for supplements that the players could use. The team’s demanding schedule made it hard for them to eat right. They might have a game in New York City one night, then have to fly to Los Angeles to play there the following night. Add their training schedule to that mix, and the coach recognized that their bodies were being taxed to the max. The challenge was to find supplements that wouldn’t test positively on drug tests. What she found was USANA.

“In my 13-year career with the Olympic team, we were told not to take supplements at all, and I began to not trust the supplement industry at large,” Azzi recalls. “Frankly, I was skeptical about USANA at first. It had been so ingrained in me not to take supplements. But then I learned about Dr. [Myron] Wentz and the science behind USANA. It was more about health than athletics.”

When Azzi heard USANA’s compensation plan, she immediately understood and appreciated the concept of residual income because she already had investments in real estate.

“You put in the work, and you work hard, but you’re also leveraging time and the work you did in the past,” she says. “An athlete’s skill set translates well into a business like this. You have to train your body and put in time on things that are not that much fun in order to have that one great game. You deal with rejection and with loss, but you get up and keep on going. Sometimes people think you’re nuts for doing what you’re doing. Athletes as well as network marketers deal with all those things.”

Azzi decided that since she was already lending her name to a product she believed in, she might as well make a business of it.

“Why wouldn’t I want to?” she asks rhetorically. “I’m using the products and telling everyone to take them. It’s something I believe in. If I’m doing all that, why wouldn’t I be a distributor?”

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