As the Athlete Manager of the brands that make up the Corona Sports Group, Roger Larsen sees the direct impact that his riders have on the brands they are supported by. The two gear manufacturers have an extensive history in the sport and in the middle of the previous decade, MSR and Answer Racing received a much need overhaul in image, on both gear itself and the riders that wore it. With James Stewart, Kevin Windham, Nick Wey, the JDR KTM team, and a slew of amateur racers to support, it is safe to say that Roger Larsen stays busy. We caught up with Larsen during a recent stop at the CSG’s office and learned more about what it takes to build the public image of a brand.
Answer and MSR have come a long way in the last few years, starting in 2005 when Answer was redesigned and signed Ernesto Fonseca, to now with James Stewart, Kevin Windham, and the release of the 2013 line that is just around the corner. How has it changed over the years?
It has definitely gotten bigger. Not even on the sales end of it, but more on the athlete side. They had one or two guys then and now we have quite a few diverse riders and "the guy." That is a huge deal in itself.
On the sales end of things, was there a noticeable spike when James signed?
Coincidentally, the time that we signed him was right about the time that the economy had gotten bad. I used to stay up on it, but it will drive you crazy if you try to follow it. But I think having him at the time with the bad economy helped us stay strong. It has been awesome for the brand and for Tucker Rocky. I wish there was a way to put a formula together on how many more things that Tucker Rocky sells to a dealer and how much more we have sold because we have guys like Stewart and Windham. You can keep track of the sales on the gear side, but it helps a Tucker Rocky representative to go into a dealer and have the marquee athletes aligned with our brands. There is no way to really tell, but I still have a job (Laughs).
To have Kevin Windham and Nick Wey signed to MSR, how has it affected that part of the brand?
Wey has been awesome. He has been here for eight years and he is as MSR as you can get. I think he is going to have his own desk here. He is a huge part of MSR and of all our guys, he is in here the most. Not because he lives close by, but because he is really tight with a lot of our staff. He is into the gear and his look, and he wants to be as hands on as he can be. I think Windham is the same as Stewart and just having those guys brings the brand to a whole other level. Both Stewart and Windham signed in the same year, so it is cool that we have been able to keep them and keep them happy.
How long is the design process for a seasonal release from the time it is an idea until it is a finished product?
It is a little over a year, give or take. It is weird for us, because we see it for so long that when it finally makes it to the track and you see it a few times, you are tired of it. And you know you have new things coming and you want to get it out, but because of sales and it's not available yet, you have to release it at certain times. To see it from a concept to a sample to the time it comes in to the time it is on the track is a long, long time. And when it does make it to the track after a while, I'm ready to see something new. For the average person, they are stoked on it but I am thinking, "Dude, I have even better stuff coming pretty soon."
What do you put more effort in to, the casual clothing line or the gear? When the Answer brand was redesigned, the casual clothing that came out was one of the most eye-catching things in the catalog, and in 2009 after James won the title, his signature was something new to moto. Does that receive more effort because it is something you are trying to develop and you have a general routine with gear, or does the riding gear always come first?
It is always more with the gear. That is what we do, that is what we make. We make motocross gear. And not to knock anyone else, but I think that ours is the best out there. Everyone takes a lot of pride in what we do and what we put out there, so in all honesty the gear is the number one priority.
Do you see more interest in the signature lines, like James' "Seven" gear, or in the Rockstar gear?
I think that the signature gear and the energy drink gear are all co-branded in its own way. James Stewart is a brand, just like our Skullcandy stuff or like the Rockstar line; it is kind of the same thing. Those things have done really well for us. I think that we were the first to do a co-branded thing with Rockstar. The Skullcandy stuff is kind of the same way; it has taken off and followed that same pattern. And James' stuff is kind of category, just like the Metal Mulisha; it is its own category. They are all their own brand.
How is it to work with a trademarked brand?
They are good. Guys like Ryan Hagy, who is the Athlete Manager for the La Jolla Group and does what I do, they know that we are in this together. We will sell things that are Mulisha and in the MSR catalog, there are SKUs of straight Mulisha gear, just like with Skullcandy and Rockstar. We are in this together and we have the same goal and same interest, which is to get your brand out there the best you can and win races.
What does the future hold for all the brands under the CSG banner?
I think we will continue down this same path. I think that Stewart has a lot of years left in him and we are super happy with the relationship that we have. And I know he feels the same. We are going on four years with James and Kevin both and our relationship with Skullcandy is really good and has allowed us to create a good relationship with the JDR team. They are one of the only teams, with the exception of JGR, that are actually growing and putting more money in to the team. They have only been around for two years, but by signing Malcolm [Stewart], they are moving forward. To get on board with those guys has allowed us to sponsor the team in Australia, and I think that they have won a title every year that they have been around in Australia, which is pretty gnarly and unheard of. On the MSR side, the relationship with the Mulisha is huge and that brand is growing like crazy. That relationship with Deegan is good and with him comes his whole crew of freestyle guys. There are a ton of guys that come with that and the amount of gear that we build for them is huge.
Our amateur team for both brands is sick. This year we have both Zach and Chase Bell, and both of those guys kill it. Looking far down the road, they will be the next guys coming up and we have them now when they are winning pretty much everything and MSR has Jeremy Martin, Cooper Webb, and Joey Savatgy. I have never really embraced the amateur scene 100 percent, but now that I have, I am in to it. I am stoked on how far our amateur teams as come, just like our pro riders. I think that I can say that I work with the best group of athletes from amateurs to the pro level who are all at different parts of their careers.