Keflezighi's Boston win a boost for shoe sponsor

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Keflezighi's Boston win a boost for shoe sponsor
BOSTON - APRIL 21: Meb Keflezighi, of the United States, crosses the finish line to win first place in the men's race of the 118th Boston Marathon on Monday, April 21, 2014. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Meb Keflezighi, of San Diego, Calif., breaks the tape to win the 118th Boston Marathon Monday, April 21, 2014 in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
BOSTON - APRIL 21: Meb Keflezighi, of the United States, holds up an American flag at the finish line and wears his crown and medal during his victory ceremony after finishing first place in the men's race of the 118th Boston Marathon on Monday, April 21, 2014. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)(metro)
Rita Jeptoo, of Kenya, bereaks the tape to win the women's division of the 118th Boston Marathon Monday, April 21, 2014 in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Runners make their way to load onto busses ahead of the 118th Boston Marathon Monday, April 21, 2014 in Boston. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Runners make their way to load onto busses ahead of the 118th Boston Marathon Monday, April 21, 2014 in Boston. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Trent Morrow of Sydney, Australia, also know as “Marathon Man” laughs as Andrea Olivo of Venezuela tugs on his cape as she has her photo made ahead of Monday's 118th Boston Marathon, Sunday, April 20, 2014, in Boston. Morrow says Monday's marathon will be his 200th run since Jan. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Tears collect on Ron McCracken's of Dallas cheek as he pays his respects at a makeshift memorial honoring to the victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings ahead of Monday's 118th Boston Marathon, Sunday, April 20, 2014, in Boston. McCracken's race last year was cut short due to bombings and Monday's race will mark his 14th year running in the Boston Marathon. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A visitor hangs a message on a tree at the "Dear Boston" exhibit at the Boston Public Library, Sunday, April 20, 2014, in Boston. The exhibit features a collection of items from the marathon bombing memorial. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Runners cue to board busses ahead of the 118th Boston Marathon Monday, April 21, 2014 in Boston. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Nancy Antos, of Boulder, Colo., displays her bib to run in Monday's 118th Boston Marathon after picking it up Saturday, April 19, 2014, in Boston. Antos was six blocks from the finish line in last year's race, but did not finish when race officials stopped all runners after two bombs exploded near the finish line. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Actor Kevin Spacey applauds Boston Marathon bombing hero Carlos Arredondo at the finish line of the Boston Marathon Tribute Run in Boston, Saturday, April 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
High school runners limber up before the Invitational Mile race Saturday, April 19, 2014, in advance of Monday's 118th Boston Marathon in Boston. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Boston Marathon bombing survivor Doug Julian carries his partner, fellow survivor Lynn Crisci, toward the finish line during the Boston Marathon Tribute Run in Boston, Saturday, April 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Chrissie Blevins, of Powhatan, Va., displays her bib to run in Monday's 118th Boston Marathon as she picks it up Saturday, April 19, 2014, in Boston. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Survivors Erika Brannock, left, and Rebekah Gregory DiMartino, embrace in their wheelchairs as they head to the finish line of the Boston Marathon Tribute Run in Boston, Saturday, April 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Elite women runners leave the start line of the 118th Boston Marathon Monday, April 21, 2014 in Hopkinton, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
Police officers give a rundown of the scene at Wellesley College to a State Police Special Response team before the start of the 118th Boston Marathon Monday, April 21, 2014 in Wellesley, Mass. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
The 118th Boston Marathon gets underway as the mobility impaired runners leave the start line behind Monday, April 21, 2014 in Hopkinton, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
Race officials wire the electronics for the start line before the 118th Boston Marathon begins Monday, April 21, 2014 in Hopkinton, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
Mobility-impaired runners gather at the start line for a moment of silence before the 118th Boston Marathon Monday, April 21, 2014 in Hopkinton, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
Meb Keflezighi of the United States, center, runs with eventual winner Geoffrey Mutai, left, of Kenya along 4th Ave. in the Brooklyn borough of New York during the New York City Marathon, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
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The Boston Marathon champion crossed the finish line wearing sneakers from Skechers, not exactly a brand associated with sports.

The company signed Meb Keflezighi three years ago hoping he could help legitimize its foray into selling running shoes. While his historic victory Monday was significant enough to Skechers to get mentioned on its corporate earnings call, executives considered Keflezighi's endorsement a success long before he won Boston.

His title is another boost to a small but growing venture.

Skechers made Keflezighi its first - and only - spokesman for the running shoes line in 2011 because he was already a familiar figure to serious runners. Suddenly, though, plenty of folks who don't follow the sport are Meb fans.

He became the feel-good story of the marathon's return a year after the bombings - the first American man to win the race in more than three decades.

"Now he's known to most people sitting at home watching television," said Rick Higgins, vice president of merchandising and marketing for Skechers' "performance" division.

And Higgins realizes many of them were surprised to learn that Skechers makes running shoes. The company's next series of commercials starring Keflezighi will find a way to celebrate his Boston title, Higgins said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Sam Poser, an analyst for Sterne Agee, doesn't expect Keflezighi's win to instantaneously lift Skechers from a tiny percentage of the running shoe market to a major share.

But for a growing brand, every bit of positive press helps.

"It's going to bring attention and more credibility," he said.

Keflezighi was a big star in the running community long before he took the lead Monday wearing a Skechers logo on his shirt.

"Meb was already on a global level, an elite athlete, highly decorated," Higgins said.

At the 2004 Olympics, his silver made him the first American man in 28 years to medal in the marathon. In 2009, he became the first U.S. champion in 27 years at the New York City Marathon.

Keflezighi was sponsored by Nike then. He said Monday that the company's lack of interest in re-signing him was a low point in his career. Meanwhile, Skechers was looking for new ways to expand sales.

Athletic shoes were a way to do that, Higgins said. But that meant convincing potential customers that Skechers could make a sneaker in which they could run fast times.

Higgins said Keflezighi's influence has been evident since Skechers' performance division launched in October 2011, a month before Keflezighi ran the NYC Marathon in them.

He posted a personal-best time in finishing sixth in New York that day, then lowered it again in winning the U.S. Olympic trials just over two months later. Keflezighi narrowly missed a medal at the 2012 London Games when he took fourth.

Those performances were critical in persuading serious runners that "if Meb can do it in Skechers shoes, so can you," Higgins said.

At road races that the company sponsors, he said, Skechers found that entrants were lured to its booths by the association with Keflezighi. Runners blogs reviewed the sneakers because of his involvement. Skechers has been gradually getting the shoes into more specialty running shops.

As it happened, Skechers announced its first-quarter financial results Tuesday. Net sales were up 21 percent from a year ago. Growth was strong across the board, including the performance division, said David Weinberg, the company's chief operating officer and chief financial officer.

And he made sure early on in the earnings call to mention Keflezighi's victory and latest personal-best time, which Weinberg called "a major accomplishment both for Meb and the brand."

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