Feature by Jeff Commings
PORTLAND, Oregon, January 11. STEVE Ozmai hasn't seen much of his desk at the Portland headquarters of Arena USA, and it's likely he won't have a lot of time in the near future to settle into his new office. Ozmai will be jetting off to the next five stops of the Arena Grand Prix in the coming weeks and anywhere else that requires his services as the company's brand marketing director, doing his part to help Arena fulfill its long-term goal of expanded brand exposure in the United States.
"It's been an adventure already," Ozmai said Thursday, his third full day in the office after a four-day trip to the East Coast. "It's (only) been a week and I've been hitting the ground running."
Arena has not been taking the new strategies for its USA branch at a leisurely pace since the exclusive apparel partnership with USA Swimming and their title sponsorship of the Grand Prix went into effect last week, Ozmai said. Though a major goal of every for-profit company is revenue, Ozmai said Arena is keenly aware that revenue cannot happen without working to help grow the sport. To that end, the company is working from top down with its competitive swimwear and apparel, getting more elite athletes to showcase the brand and having that exposure work its way down into the age group and developmental ranks of the sport.
"Their marketing efforts are focused on growing the sport of swimming than purely a sales objective," Ozmai said. "Every company is going to say that, but Arena's actions, joining with USA swimming and taking on the Grand Prix series, proves they are working to grow the sport."
Though Ozmai is making his career debut with a swimwear company, it's not his first professional dip into the swimming community. For six years he worked as marketing director for Skins, which developed compression apparel that became popular among American swimmers on the 2012 Olympic team. Wearing the compression leggings often help athletes' muscles recover better and flush out lactic acid. Ozmai's brief work with the team "was a nice dovetail into working with Arena," and he said he's excited to step onto the pool deck again at the Austin Grand Prix after leaving the sport when he was 13.
The major focus in the immediate future is the Arena Grand Prix, and though he couldn't go into specifics, Ozmai's voice became slightly more upbeat when he hinted that the company has big plans in store for both the spectator and athlete experience at future Grand Prix events.
"The deadlines were too close to do anything drastically different" in Austin next week, he said. "We want to go in and make future Grand Prix events unique and give the spectators an experience they'll remember forever, hopefully in association with both USA Swimming and the Arena brand."
And that's just the start of a strategy to increase Arena's exposure in the United States, an effort that began more than three years ago when the company launched an American offshoot from its popular European market. It will be a tough hill to climb, Ozmai contends, given the decades-long brand recognition the company's competitors have in the United States.
"Gaining that mindshare from athletes that have never experienced Arena will be a major goal of ours going forward," he said.
Even it means crisscrossing the country and seeing very little of his office, Ozmai sounds like he's up to the challenge.