The Virgin brand is synonymous with access and opportunity (see Virgin Galactic). Virgin Sport San Francisco, Richard Branson’s movement to connect people through sport and culture; has created a weekend long event, a Festival of Fitness. Scheduled to take place in San Francisco on October 14th and 15th, the event will have something for everyone; from running and fitness activities to music, art and local fare. JWS had the opportunity to speak with CEO/Chief Exercise Officer Mary Wittenberg about the event, its sponsors, wearables and workouts.
JWS: The company’s stated mission is to “move the world through sport”. How does Virgin Sport define success?
Mary: In the short term, we’ll be looking at the net promoter score; do the participants want to come back. We’ll be looking at sponsorship growth from the first year to the second, participation growth and the strength of the relationships we are able to develop with local, grass roots fitness groups, within the communities. Longer term we’ll be focused on traction gained in adding cities (currently focused on SF & London). 1 million participants in 10 years would certainly be considered a success.
JWS: When selecting sponsors for the event, were you looking for companies aligned with the mission or the most lucrative financial agreements?
Mary: Virgin Group incubates companies and then brings strategic partners in along the way. Who you partner with early on says a lot about your brand. Richard fully funded the company, so we can partner with companies that share our vision (Motiv, Clif, Nuun, Headspace, Flywheel Sports, Classpass). Richard has also always been very supportive of entrepreneurs.
JWS: ASICS (TYO: 7936) is the founding partner sponsor of the event. Besides the fact that they manufacture shoes and apparel needed for a weekend of sports activities, what makes them a strong partner?
Mary: ASICS is interested in culture. They wanted to be a co-creator. They are at our side and have a real voice. When you can create with a partner, they are going to be that much more engaged.
JWS: Do you have a favorite in the fitness wearables market?
Mary: I’ve tried a bunch, Apple (AAPL), Fitbit (FIT); I like the watch. I’m excited about the ring that Motiv is working on. I like functional accessories.
Howie Long-Short: For those wondering, a net promoter score is an index ranging from -100 to 100 that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products or services to others. The customer is asked just one simple question, “How likely are you to recommend the company/product/brand to a friend or colleague?” They are asked to rate on an 11-point scale (0-10).
Fan Marino: Mary qualified for the 1988 Olympic marathon trials, so she knows a bit about training. I asked for some ways to keep exercising from getting stale. Mary suggested joining November Projects (now in 41 cities) and trying FlyBarre (particularly guys who think ballet when they hear barre).