The role of brand marketing in snowboarding: A comparative study of Switzerland and New Zealand

Spale, Cyrill (March 2012). The role of brand marketing in snowboarding: A comparative study of Switzerland and New Zealand. In: Eidgenössische Hochschule für Sport Magglingen, EHSM (ed.) 4. Jahrestagung der Sportwissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft der Schweiz (SGS). Wissenstransfer zwischen Sportwissenschaft und Praxis (pp. 38-39). Bundesamt für Sport BASPO

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Introduction: Brands play an essential role in the organizational structure
of snowboarding by sponsoring athletes, arranging events, contributing
to product development and developing long-term partnerships
with other key actors. However, the specialities of their role in scene
sports, such as creating identities, networking and brand marketing strategies,
have not been extensively researched. This study aims to provide an
analysis of the function of brands within the snowboarding subculture by
comparing how the sport is organized in Switzerland and New Zealand.
Sociological theories of subcultures (Hitzler & Niederbacher, 2010) and
social networks (Stegbauer, 2008) are used to defi ne the structures of
the sport, whereas marketing and branding theories (Adjouri & Stastny,
2006) help to understand the role of the brands. Snowboarding will be
defi ned as an alternative sports subculture based on characteristics such
as aesthetics, adventure and new resources of performance (Schwier,
2006). Such a defi nition also begs for a novel form of analyzing its
organization. Unlike more conventional structures, the organization of
snowboarding allows a variety of actors to get involved in leading the
sport. By portraying and encouraging differentiated identities and lifestyles,
athletes provide a space for other actors to fi nd their place within
the sport (Wheaton, 2005). According to Stegbauers network theory,
individual actors are able to obtain high positions and defi ne their identity
depending on their ties to actors and networks within the subculture
(Stegbauer, 2008). For example, social capital, contacts within the sport
and insider knowledge on subculture-related information enable actors
to get closer to the core (Hitzler & Niederbacher, 2010). Actors who do
not have close networks and allies within the subculture are less likely to
engage successfully in the culture, whether as an individual or as a commercial
actor (Thorpe, 2011). This study focuses on the organizational
structure of snowboarding by comparing the development of the sport
in Switzerland and New Zealand. An analysis of snowboarding in two
nations with diverse cultures and economic systems allows a further
defi nition of the structural organization of the sport and explains how
brands play an important role in the sport.
Methods: The structural organization of the sport will be analyzed
through an ethnographic approach, using participant observation at
various leading events in Switzerland (, European Open) and
New Zealand (World Heli Challenge, New Zealand Open, New Zealand
Winter Games). The data is analyzed using grounded theory (Glaser &
Strauss 1967) and gives an overview of the actors that are playing an
important role in the local development of snowboarding. Participant
observation was also used as a tool to get inside the sport culture and
opened up the possibility to make over 40 semi-structured qualitative
expert interviews with international core actors from 11 countries.
Obtaining access to one actor as a partner early on helped to get inside
the local sport culture. The ‘snowball effect’ allowed the researcher to
acquire access, build trust and conduct interviews with experts within
the core scene. All the interviewed actors have a direct infl uence on
the sport in one or both countries, which permit a cross-analysis. The
data of the interviews was evaluated through content analysis (Mayring
2010). The two methods together provided suffi cient data to analyze
the organizational structure and discuss the role of brand marketing
within snowboarding.
Results: An actors mapping by means of a center-periphery framework
has identifi ed fi ve main core groups: athletes, media representatives,
brand-marketing managers, resort managers and event organizers.
In both countries the same grouping of actors were found. Despite
possessing different and frequently multiple roles and responsibilities,
core actors appear to have a strong common identifi cation as ‘snowboarders’,
are considered to be part of the organizational elite of the
sport and tend to advocate similar goals. The author has found that
brands in Switzerland tend to have a larger impact on the broader
snowboarding culture due to a number of factors discussed below. Due
to a larger amount of snowboarders and stronger economic power in Europe, snowboarders are making attempts to differentiate themselves
from other winter sports, while competing with each other to develop
niche markets. In New Zealand, on the other hand, the smaller market
enables more cooperation and mutual respect within snowboarders.
Further they are more closely linked to other winter sports and are
satisfi ed with being lumped together. In both countries, brands have
taken up the role of supporting young athletes, organizing competitions
and feeding media with subculture-related content. Brands build their
image and identity through the collaboration with particular athletes
who can represent the values of the brand. Local and global communities
with similar lifestyles and interests are being built around brands
that share a common vision of the sport. The dominance of brands in
snowboarding has enabled them with the power to organize and rule
the sport through its fan base and supporters. Brands were defi ned by
interviewees as independent institutions led by insiders who know the
codes and symbols of the sport and were given trust and credibility.
The brands identify themselves as the engines of the sport by providing
the equipment, opportunities for athletes to get exposure, allowing
media to get exclusive information on activities, events and sport-related
stories. Differences between the two countries are more related to the
economic system. While Switzerland is well integrated in the broader
European market, New Zealand’s geographical isolation and close proximity
to Australia tends to limit its market. Further, due to different
cultural lifestyles, access to resorts and seasonal restrictions, to name a
few, the amount of people practicing winter sports in New Zealand is
much smaller than in Switzerland. However, this also presents numerous
advantages. For example, the short southern hemisphere winter season
in New Zealand enables them to attract international sports athletes,
brands and representatives in a period when Europe and North America
is in summer. Further, the unique snow conditions in New Zealand and
majestic landscape is popular for attracting world renowned photo- and
cinematographers. Another advantage is the less populated network as
it provides the opportunity for individuals to gain easier access to the
core of the sport, obtain diverse positions and form a unique identity and
market. In Switzerland, on the other hand, the snowboarding network
is dense with few positions available for the taking. Homegrown brands
with core recognition are found in both countries. It was found that
the Swiss brands tend to have a larger impact on the market, whereas
in New Zealand, the sport is more dependent on import products by
foreign brands. Further, athletes, events and resorts in New Zealand are
often dependent on large brand sponsorships from abroad such as from
brand headquarters in the Unites States. Thus, due to its location in the
centre of Europe, Swiss brands can take advantage of brands which
are closer in proximity and culture to sponsor athletes and events. In
terms of media coverage, winter sports in New Zealand tend to have a
minor coverage and tradition in local mass media, which leads to less
exposure, recognition and investment into the sport. This is also related
to how snowboarding is more integrated into other winter sports in New
Zealand. Another difference is the accessibility of the ski resort by the
population. While in Switzerland the resorts are mostly being visited by
day-travelers, ‘weekend warriors’ and holiday makers, the location of
the resorts in New Zealand make it diffi cult to visit for one day. This is
in part due to the fact that Swiss ski resorts and villages are usually the
same location and are accessible through public transportation, while
the ski resorts in New Zealand have been built separately from the villages.
Further, the villages have not been built to accommodate to high
tourist arrivals. Thus, accommodation and food facilities are limited and
there is a lack of public transportation to the resorts.
Discussion: The fi ndings show that networks and social relations combined
with specifi c knowledge on scene-related attributes are crucial in
obtaining opportunities within the sport. Partnerships as well as competition
between these different actors are necessary for core acceptance,
peer credibility and successful commercial interests. Brands need to
maintain effective marketing strategies and identities which incorporate subcultural forms of behavior and communication. In order to
sustain credibility from its fans, athletes and other snowboarding actors,
brands need to maintain their insider status through social networks and
commercial branding strategies. The interaction between all actors is a
reciprocated process, where social capital, networks and identities are
being shared. While the overall structure of snowboard subcultures in
Europe and New Zealand are similar, there are some distinct characteristics
which make each one unique.
Adjouri, N. & Stastny, P. (2006). Sport-Branding: Mit Sport-Sponsoring zum Markenerfolg.
Wiesbaden: Gabler.
Glaser, B. & Strauss, K. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative
research. Chicago: Aldine.
Hebdige, D. (2009). Subculture; The meaning of style. New York: Routledge.
Hitzler, R. & Niederbacher, A. (2010). Leben in Szenen: Formen juveniler Vergemeinschaftung
heute. Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.
Mayring, P. (2010). Qualitative Inhaltsanalyse: Grundlagen und Techniken. Weinheim: Beltz.
Schwier, J. (2006). Repräsentationen des Trendsports. Jugendliche Bewegungskulturen,
Medien und Marketing. In: Gugutzer, R. (Hrsg.). body turn. Perspektiven der Soziologie
des Körpers und des Sports. Bielefeld: transcript (S. 321-340).
Stegbauer, C. (2008). Netzwerkanalyse und Netzwerktheorie. Ein neues Paradigma in den
Sozialwissenschaften. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.
Thorpe, H. (2011). Snowboarding bodies in theory and practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave
Wheaton, B. (2005). Understanding lifestyle sports; consumption, identity and difference.
New York: Routledge.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Abstract)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Sport Science (ISPW)
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Sport Science (ISPW) > Sport Sociology and Management

UniBE Contributor:

Spale, Cyrill


700 Arts > 790 Sports, games & entertainment
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology


Bundesamt für Sport BASPO




Rahel Spring

Date Deposited:

31 Jul 2014 13:24

Last Modified:

06 Mar 2015 13:32




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