Athletes / Sponsorship


KT Tape & Team USA

Author Zach Besso, University of San Francisco

Posted: April 26, 2016

Most sport products have a high probability of functional success due to knowledge gained from similar products put out by competitors (Malkewitz & Bee, 2014, p. 91). However, when an innovative product emerges that company must find ways to establish themselves as a viable brand in an overcrowded market. Founded in 2008, KT Tape has managed its brand successfully and firmly established itself as one of the most aggressive sponsors of the 2016 Rio Olympic games (Fischer, 2016, para. 2).

The Utah based company has demonstrated some of the New Product Design (NPD) guidelines in order to make a name for itself. Kerri Walsh-Jennings was the face of their market launch in 2012 when she sported the athletic tape during the London games (Fischer, 2016, para. 12). Walsh-Jennings effectively marketed KT Tape during her matches and can be seen as the company’s “first mover” a term Malkewitz and Bee define as the first marketer of a new product (2014, p. 100). Millions of athletes, KT Tape’s target consumer, tuned in to watch Walsh-Jennings win her third consecutive Olympic gold medal providing KT Tape with huge viewership and an undeniable first mover advantage, setting the stage for immediate growth.

The NPD also defines different types of brand attributes a new product may hold with consumers. Symbolic attributes are those capable of conveying information about the user to others (Malkewitz & Bee, 2014, p. 101). Thanks to image transfer, those who witnessed Walsh-Jennings’ historic win associate KT Tape with high level performance. Thus the average athlete who uses KT Tape may have socio-physiological motives for use, showing others, “I am a winner; I am like her; I am an elite athlete.” One of the more obvious brand attributes KT Tape holds are experiential attributes or those that provide value derived from sensory perceptions of the consumer (Malkewitz & Bee, 2014, p. 101). Physically, KT Tape is a simple adhesive strip capable of adapting to any body type with comfort and ease. Both the symbolic and experiential attributes the consumer associates with KT Tape make for a positive consumer brand experience.

One issue the NPD highlights if a product wishes to brand itself successfully is consistency of brand presentation. Any time KT Tape is advertised, it is on an athlete while they are performing. This small, important detail relays the idea to consumers that KT Tape is a product based on proven, enhanced athletic performance not celebrity athlete gimmicks. A laddering process then takes place in the consumer’s mind: Walsh-Jennings wears it, Walsh-Jennings wins, if I wear it, I’ll win, therefore I’ll buy it. Furthermore, KT Tape has consistently used the Olympic games as their primary marketing platform. Last December, KT Tape signed an exclusive licensing agreement with the United States Olympic Committee that gave it rights to the Olympic rings (Fischer, 2016, para 3). This strategic move allowed the company to create Team USA tape for the 2016 Rio games. In creating a product which pictures the Olympic rings KT Tape is pairing itself with not only iconic athletes and their brands but also the iconic Olympic brand. KT Tape’s use of iconic representation, a perceptual design principle, strengthens the relationship consumers established in 2012 between Walsh-Jennings’ excellence and KT Tape while expanding their brand connection to all of Team USA’s top performers.

KT Tape was an unknown company five years ago with no presence or brand in the sport marketplace. The main reason for their emergence and success has been perfect brand-event fit. The most effective endorsement and branding relationships are built when there is a fit between the endorser and the product (Gwinner, 2014, p. 163). By pairing their product (athletic performance tape) with elite athletes and iconic sporting events (Walsh-Jennings and the Olympics) KT Tape has established itself as a top dog in the sport product industry. Their rapid brand growth from obscurity to popularity can be chalked up to smart brand building and management leadership.



Fischer, B. (2016, March 28). KT tape sticks with games in bigger way. SportBusiness Journal,   18(48). Retrieved from

Gwinner, K. (2014). Brand event fit in sport sponsorship. In M. P. Pritchard & J. L. Stinson       (Eds.) Leveraging brands in sport business. (pp. 157-170). New York, NY: Routledge.

Malkewitz, K., & Bee, C. (2014). Undertaking successful brand design in sport. In M. P. Pritchard & J. L. Stinson (Eds.) Leveraging brands in sport business. (pp. 89-108). New York, NY: Routledge.

About Zach Besso, University of San Francisco

Zach Besso is currently a Sport Management Graduate Student at the University of San Francisco. With a background in Neuroscience and medicine, Zach brings an objective and unique perspective to the world of sport business. He currently works for the San Francisco Giants and is interested in pursuing a career in brand sponsorship. You can connect with Zach on LinkedIn ( or follow him on Twitter (@zbessos). This article is an edited version of a paper Zach prepared for Dr. Michael M. Goldman’s Sport Marketing class at the University of San Francisco.

IImage by @kttape, "Now that’s how you #FinishStronger—congrats to @jharden13 for powering into the playoffs. #kttape", retrieved from