Monday, May 21, 2012

Bolt Got SOUL

I haven't blogged here for a while, but this doesn't mean I wasn't paying attention to some of the relevant goings on all this time. There were many noteworthy events just the same. A big one for me was my appearance (via skype) on the Sport and Culture panel at the second Business of Sport Conference held in Kingston, Jamaica May 3-4, 2012. I spoke about merchandise licensing as an element of brand building for athletes.  The freshness of that presentation is still in the air.

I want to congratulate the Bolt team for the work they did in making the new Usain Bolt headphones a reality.  What has been accomplished is the first for a Jamaican track and field athlete, which makes this a truly significant development.  From a May 14, 2012 press release we learn that they partnered with SOUL Electronics of Florida to produce the Usain Bolt branded headphones in time for summer 2012.

Image: Soul Electronics
The press release states that:
SOUL Electronics and the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, have announced a branding partnership. The track and field star will be representing the SOUL brand during various events throughout the year and will be a development partner for his own special edition headphones, scheduled to hit the market this summer.
It appears fans can expect quite a treat as they promise that:
SOUL headphone models currently under development with Bolt include a Bluetooth earbud with removable ear safety-hooks for added stability (perfect for an athletic lifestyle) called the RUN FREE and a version of the company’s popular SL300 that pays a stylish homage to the athlete’s home, Jamaica.
Usain Bolt is already on the promotions trail with this product, as seen arriving in Ostrava today in the photo below, so I'm watching to see what the uptake will be. It should be a very useful case study.

I am one for the creation of a ton of relevant, trendy, fashionable, and functional merchandise built around Jamaican or Jamaican-themed brands, so this augurs well for Jamaican properties. Resort styled merchandise have their place on the commercial landscape, but this is a very limited business.  Whereas the Bolt headphones will be manufactured outside of Jamaica, for fairly obvious reasons, the hope is that one day businesses within Jamaica may begin to produce merchandise of similar or superior quality, and gain the distribution muscle, in order that they will be able to secure these deals at home. The more entertainment and sports stars of the ilk of a Usain Bolt Jamaica can produce, the greater the opportunities for Jamaican industry.

In the meantime, it should not go unsaid that this is the very first outright licensing deal signed by Usain Bolt.  Prior to this, his deals have been partnerships and endorsements.  While true that his endorsement deal with gear manufacturer PUMA includes a license for his own apparel line, no other deal has been a stand-alone license.  Therefore, this is significant for the track and field star.  In other words, like most of his previous deals, this could have easily been a case of SOUL got Bolt - Usain Bolt Tracks and Records restaurant aside.  However, the table is turned with this deal and so we can be truly accurate in declaring that Bolt got SOUL.