While Mizuno Corp. is an active player on the global sponsorship scene (TCS Amsterdam Marathon, etc.) the Japanese sportswear and sports equipment manufacturer has kept a fairly low profile in the U.S. market.

But that is starting to change. Mizuno USA last week announced a three-year partnership with the Atlanta Track Club, producer of the AJC Peachtree Road Race and other running events. The tie builds on a portfolio that includes a long-running partnership with USA Volleyball and endorsement deals with golfers Stacy Lewis, Luke Donald and other professional athletes.

The partnership will help Mizuno and ATC engage the running community. For example, Mizuno will provide co-branded apparel and footwear and help launch new ATC events. Mizuno also will develop and sell ATC-branded apparel at sporting goods retailers throughout the Southeast.

IEG SR spoke with Bob Puccini, Mizuno USA president, about how the company will use the partnership to build its presence in the local running community, promote corporate values and gain insights for new product development.  

Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

On the thinking behind the partnership
We have been looking to expand our business in running, our growth engine.

The Atlanta Track Club has revived leadership and vision, a great history and heritage, and they’re based in our backyard. The partnership is a great way to tie our business objectives with our corporate philosophy of contributing to society through the advancement of sport.

The partnership is about shared values--our values are incredibly aligned. The Atlanta Track Club is about health and wellness, family and competitive spirit, as are we.

On taking a grassroots approach to sponsorship in the U.S. market
I define our company as a multi-category specialty brand. We can’t outspend our competitors from an Americas perspective. As a result, we have taken a grassroots approach to our marketing endeavors.

The Americas are a primary growth market for our group portfolio. We position Mizuno as a premium, aspirational, technical and innovative brand. It’s important to get golf clubs in the hands of golfers and baseball products on the field of play, and we have made a concerted effort to drive those grassroots-related activities that allow us to take a leadership position, like our partnership with USA Volleyball.

We have a long history with USA Volleyball and we hope to continue the relationship. The partnership has played a major role in driving our business through an association that is authentic to our brand.

But sponsorships and athlete endorsements are not enough. You have to embed yourself in the community, and that’s what we’re trying to do with the Atlanta Track Club.

On using the ATC for product development
Having a partnership with an organization that draws young consumers with different points of view will help provide insights into future products and initiatives. Having a tight, close-knit relationship with an organization in our backyard will provide invaluable insight from a product development and commercialization perspective.

As a premium, aspirational brand, innovation is not limited to our products. The partnership will help drive our thought leadership going forward.