Tough Mudder's Unilad partnership a vital step in its aspiration to be a broadcast sport
Tough Mudder has partnered with Unilad in a broad content partnership that will help drive the lifestyle and media brand on social media. In the grand scheme of things, the tie-up is a brick in the company's building of an unmissable sporting brand that is engaged with all year round.
Existing Tough Mudder partners in the UK, Samsung, Merrell, Lucozade Sport and BrewDog, will now be magnified by Unilad for the rest of the 2018 season. As one of the biggest publishers on social media, Unilad helps rally and crosspollinate each brand and their 'tribes' around its events and content.
Matt Riches, commercial director EMEA of Tough Mudder told The Drum that Unilad is a kindred spirit as an "agile" brand. He went as far to outline them as a "soul mate". Nonetheless, at the moment, the parameters of the content partnership are vague - which is unusual if not unwise.
Riches said: "We have not defined our partnership with them. We are not worried about defining what we are doing. We just know that it is a really interesting space and we've got some awesome content and incredible events and they have got these ridiculously engaged audiences, as one of the world's biggest social media publishers, it's a great place to start a partnership."
To this end, Unilad will - in some way - spread the narrative of Tough Mudder participants to its 38m fans on Facebook, and beyond.
Sport and TV
Meanwhile, TM UK will continue to grow its own digital media presence (750k Facebook, 276k Instagram, 73k YouTube) to become less reliant on third parties for reach and recognition. Meanwhile, in the traditional broadcast space, TM counts on CBS in the US and Sky in the UK. With its own social channels and an ally in Unilad, it will look to plug the audience gaps and build a brand that can be engaged with on a daily basis.
Riches underlined: "Authentic original programming and content interesting to Unilad - we are producing that every week around the world. There is a rich tapestry of stories every time there is a Tough Mudder event. A lot of them are socially relevant, like people trying to get more active, overcoming stress or depression, there are a lot of real reasons why people do Tough Mudder."
But there remains room for growth. Now TM is a household name, it is looking to mobilise a sports fanbase with a new format - potentially on TV. The Drum equated this ambition and content offering to something like Takeshi's Castle or Ninja Warrior, Riches noted that its format will be more like a competitive sport.
For inspiration, Riches is looking at the media empire built by boxing events promoter and Matchroom Sports founder Barry Hearn, who among his stable of stars includes brawler Anthony Joshua. "He was a master of taking a sport and making it look brilliant through a screen... why shouldn't we learn and evolve and try and do it that way?
"We are very happy to develop more traditional sports and make a product for TV." He added.
All these brand building efforts serve to solidify TM's future. There is a dichotomy between being one of many obstacle course companies, and the market leader. And Riches will hope it remains the latter, although he welcomes competition. He noted his brand is pushing into media and lifestyle so TM is also a disrupter. It seeks a broader audience with wide pursuits, skill levels and goals. In the UK it is freshening up its offering with 5k city events in Manchester and Edinburgh and at the other end of the spectrum with the 24-hour World’s Toughest Mudder. In the US, it is trialling bootcamps and Tough Mudder X, a one mile course that is designed to test the brawn of the finest athletes - and lends itself well towards the sportified format fit for TV.
The brand was birthed in the digital space. In 2010 it was promoting local events in Pennsylvania through Facebook, and this relationship has become more sophisticated, and across more platforms but now it is even moving into football stadium LED boards in the UK as a means of capturing attention in spaces it has not previously dabbled.
Riches concluded: "We are broadening our portfolio and we are not diluting it - we are really clearly making Tough Mudder for everyone. With a more developed media house behind us, we've got the ability to be part of people's lives every day. Saying you're a 'lifestyle brand' is just words on paper unless your community agrees, believes, shares and takes it with them."