Intersport’s mission to become a global destination for local sport

While mainstream sports such as football, basketball and tennis continue to attract the most attention, Intersport hopes a focus on local sports and communities will give it an “edge to stay relevant” in a competitive sports retail environment.

Football boots, hockey sticks, shin pads and goggles: most people familiar with Intersport will probably remember it as a place they went to buy sports gear for PE lessons and weekend hobbies. Today, you would be forgiven for wondering whether the world’s largest sports retailer still even exists on British high streets.

But Intersport is still very much alive and kicking. It has almost 5,500 stores across 43 countries, including in the UK, and retail sales closing in on €12bn in 2019. The numbers don’t match the image and Intersport is on a mission to change that.

Cue the launch of a global brand platform, ‘Heart of Sport’, which aims to shake off Intersport’s “old and dusty” retailer image and position it as an “emotionally powerful” brand that is a global destination for local sport.

The crux of this is about becoming more “visible and accessible” to consumers, says Intersport’s general manager of marketing, Christoph Frechen, who joined the business in 2018 after 15 years at Adidas. This is especially the case in the UK, where there has been a “missed opportunity to better carve out what our DNA is and how can we fully leverage this potential”.

This is the start of how we increase the quality and frequency of how we engage with the consumer.

Christoph Frechen, Intersport

“Over the last couple of years, we have faced some challenges in some markets, there was not enough focus on having a strong-lasting conversation with the consumer,” Frechen tells Marketing Week.

“Intersport has been perceived as old and a little bit dusty, and just a destination where we push products through, like many other players. In today’s business, with product accessibility, there is probably always somebody who can do it a little bit faster and cheaper. This is not representing what Intersport can offer.”

Developing a global brand strategy

Intersport’s global marketing team has been working with Amsterdam-based agency We Are Pi over the past year to develop a global brand strategy and multi-category platform.

This has involved its biggest piece of consumer research to-date with more than 1,600 customers in the UK, Germany and France. It found that 66% of people feel like they still haven’t found their place in sport, while 88% said that they don’t see themselves as athletes.

And so, while mainstream sports such as football, basketball and tennis continue to attract the most attention, Intersport hopes a focus on local sports scenes and lesser-known sports in small communities will give it an “edge to stay relevant” in a competitive sports retail environment.

Intersport launched its ‘Wherever You take Training’ campaign at the start of the year. It features Scotland’s strongest woman Emma-Jane Smith and London’s Foysol Miah, who trains children at the Steel Warriors gym made from upcycled melted down knives.

The next chapter of the campaign, ‘Wherever you take Running’, tells the story of two German runners: Gorge Heiman who is among the 10 fastest tower runners in the world, and adventure runner Niko Zeigart.

“This is the start of how we increase the quality and frequency of how we engage with the consumer,” Frechen says. “More orchestrated with a clear starting point, building this in very consistent and visible way through all the relevant touchpoints.”

The most important touchpoint to build an emotional connection with the consumer, Frechen says, and the “best recipe” Intersport has, is the ability to connect hyper-local information to each of Intersport’s 5,500 stores.

This means the store staff play a key role in Intersport’s overarching brand strategy and it is critical they have an enthusiasm for local sport as opposed to sports retail and distribution.

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“We want to encourage the local retailer in a way that [it] has enough flexibility in activating those local communities in this very personal way,” Frechen explains. “To fully leverage the potential in the way it engages and interacts with the local sports enthusiast who is our core target consumer.”

To ensure there is “one brand voice and consistency in the local execution”, Intersport has marketing and brand representatives in local operations.

It is also currently introducing a global marketing team with “key representatives with the strongest marketing capabilities in the group, from the Nordics to Germany to France to Greece, so that everybody feels included and also that everybody has the obligation to deliver input to make this relevant for every hyper-local sell in the market,” Frechen says.

New KPIs and Intersport 2.0

Intersport has strategic partnerships with some of the world’s biggest sporting brands including Nike, Adidas and Puma.

Frechen says these brands are wholly supportive of its strategy to build a brand that goes beyond just selling products. So much so that they have made it a joint key performance indicator (KPI).

“For the very first time, I experienced that building one Intersport brand voice and making this successful is, to [our strategic partners], so important that we agreed, in our annual plans, one of the KPIs is our partnerships and building this brand,” Frechen explains.

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“When we pitched this transformation, one of our brand partners said guys, I not only support Intersport in the more conversional support in selling products, I support you also in building this international brand Intersport in a way that is authentic and really focuses on the consumer.”

All of this falls under Intersport’s wider group strategy, Intersport 2.0, which has been implemented by new CEO Steve Evers, who took charge of the business at the start of 2019.

Key components include initiatives in data management and transparency, an elevated store concept, and making sure Intersport is an omnichannel business.

“Marketing has the job of framing this,” Frechen concludes. “It has so many significant touchpoints it needs to be present in all of the business – in retail, digital but also in data.”

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