Road Runner Scores With Sports Bra Campaign

An e-mail marketing campaign that hit athletic apparel buyers just after a U.S. soccer player jubilantly tore off her jersey to celebrate the Women's World Cup victory has made at least one sports retailer believe in e-mail's huge speed advantage over traditional mail.

Road Runner Sports, San Diego, blasted more than 100,000 e-mails promoting Champion athletic bras on July 12, two days after Brandi Chastain iced China with a winning penalty goal and then took off her shirt and exposed her black sports bra to more than 40 million people watching the match.

Champion doesn't make the bra she wore, and Chastain is not affiliated with Road Runner or Champion, but no matter: Road Runner, which normally moves a handful of athletic bras daily, sold more than 400 in the week after the World Cup championship. The company put the sales increase at 6,300 percent.

“We're a pretty media-centric society, where information is dispersed relatively quickly,” said Road Runner spokeswoman Carol Jansen D'Agnese. “We can take advantage of those opportunities [with e-mail]. I think one of the main reasons it was so successful was the awareness that Brandi brought out.”

The e-mails linked recipients to, where the company operates a virtual store. Road Runner sells running shoes, apparel and accessories primarily through catalogs, but the Internet accounts for a growing portion of the company's revenue — 16 percent so far this year vs. only 2 percent in 1998.

Road Runner got lucky with the timing of the bra promotion. The company had already scheduled the e-mail push for July 12, but D'Agnese said Road Runner can put together e-mail campaigns in 24 to 48 hours, which would let it take advantage of such media events in the future.

Women on Road Runner's mailing list were offered a 20 percent bra discount. Nine percent of the recipients responded by clicking through to a Web page promoting the items. Of those respondents, 7 percent bought bras.

Looking ahead, neither Champion nor Road Runner is the company most likely to benefit from Chastain's jersey-flinging celebration. Nike Inc. makes the bra she wore during the game, and the soccer star, along with other members of the U.S. team, is a Nike endorser. Nike officials said the company plans to use Chastain's image to peddle the sports bra, one of six being released as a new line in September.

“We're still working it out,” said spokeswoman Kathryn Reith. “We will probably not be using her in advertising because we already had a full advertising campaign prepared for this [line], but I know our retail folks are putting together some retail pieces, whether it's counter cards or other uses of the photo.”

The new bras will be promoted at as well, but the company has not yet decided whether to use Chastain online again. Pictures of the euphoric star were posted on the site with the product in the week after the Cup title.

The media attention surrounding the event sparked speculation that the marketing-savvy athletic wear giant had a hand in Chastain's shirtless spectacle. Nike has denied that it was involved in the free exposure.

For its part, Road Runner uses what it calls a “user-friendly approach” on the Web, gathering demographic information only after e-mail list members become buyers. The company offers no incentive for joining its list other than the chance to hear about special deals. D'Agnese would not reveal the size of the company's e-mail file except to say it runs “in the six figures.”

Road Runner drives traffic to its site through race sponsorships and other offline promotions, and the company touts its site in the 16 million catalogs it mails annually. Road Runner sold about $75 million worth of goods last year, D'Agnese said.

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