Score Big with these Careers in Sports Equipment
Equipment is a major factor in the ever-improving feats of athletic achievement and the breaking of old records. The apparel worn and equipment used by Olympians and professional athletes in 2018 differs greatly from that used 100, 50, or even 20, years ago. And most times, technology developed for world class athletes trickles down to the rest of us.
Sometimes, advancement goes arguably too far for the sport’s own good — like the full body NASA-tech swim suits used in 2012 then banned because they were deemed an unfair advantage.
Sports equipment and performance apparel are major industries, with exciting opportunities. Here are four potential avenues for success:
Research and Development of Sports Equipment
For those with an interest in sports innovation and data analytics, consider a career in research and development for a sportswear company. Nike, apparel sponsor of Team USA, must undergo a technological arms race in order to always provide the best equipment for their athletes. This need for innovation drives Nike’s, and all their competitors’–Adidas, Underarmour, Speedo, Wilson, Burton, etc– research. At their research facilities, researchers first collect data regarding athlete movement and environment and then use this data to develop and new sports equipment, and experiment with new materials and designs. New tech and wearables have started blending medical technology with apparel and equipment R&D, making for new opportunities for those interested in biomechanics, medicine, materials science, and technology.
The legal affairs of R&D also play a pivotal role in getting sports equipment on the market. In general, sporting goods companies invest millions annually in their research. The system of intellectual property and patents are necessary in not only making company research a profitable affair, but to also increase brand recognition and value. Getting technology patented is always a priority after it has been tested and developed in the lab. Well-executed intellectual property protection allows the inventing company to profit from their development and justify future R&D work. If it’s botched, a well-financed competitor will copy the invention and take the market.
Business Development & Partnerships
That so-good-it’s-illegal swimsuit was created in partnership with NASA using wind-tunnel testing to find the materials and construction with the least drag possible. In performance training wear and wearable monitor technology, the equipment and apparel manufacturers are working with companies like Intel and IBM. Not too long ago, Nike announced a partnership with HP to develop 3D printing technology for shoe manufacturing. The equipment and apparel companies frequently work with materials suppliers and component manufacturers on the sourcing and production side, as well as with sports teams, leagues, and professional athletes on the testing and idea generation side. Business Development professionals establish these beneficial partnerships, which help propel innovation and collaboration.
Products don’t sell themselves. Because there’s so much hype around sports equipment and a distinct coolness factor, there’s a lot more at play than simply making the best equipment. You have to convince people that it is the best, and try to give it a status that will make people proud to use it. This involves product names, colors, ad campaigns, athlete endorsements, etc. One of the most brilliant examples of equipment marketing came from the original Nike Air Jordans. They were advanced for the day–they had air pockets in the heel and extra cushioning–but they were also against NBA uniform color rules. Nike paid Michael Jordan to wear the shoes, knowingly breaking the rules and getting him fined, and then paid his league penalty fines for him. Then they aggressively marketed the fact that the shoes had been “banned” by the NBA, feeding the idea that they were banned for their performance rather than simply their color. That shoe is credited with starting “Sneakerhead” culture, in which basketball shoes became status symbols and fashion icons, and also helped propel Nike toward becoming the largest sports equipment company in the world.
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