Athletes Are Touting CBDs the Same Way They Tout Pepsi and Budweiser

When devotees of CrossFit, the intensive workout chain, compete July 27 to August 1 at the NOBULL CrossFit Games in Madison, Wisconsin, TV cameras will be ubiquitous.
Written by 
Joan Oleck, Cannabis Journalist.
|Last Updated:

And all those grunting, sweating bodies? They’ll be joined in the CrossFit arena by the cannabidiol company cbdMD.

“When you turn on the games, you’ll see ‘2021 CrossFit Games – sponsored by cbdMD,’” Martin Sumichrast explained. He’s chairman and co-CEO of the Charlotte, N.C.-based CBD manufacturing concern, and his topic, of course, was sports sponsorships.

CBD companies are among the newest players in a sponsorship world that sports fans already know well. National Football League games? PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are a major presence, National Basketball Association playoffs? Nike jerseys are a fixture.

Then there are Major League Baseball contests which feature household names like Google, MasterCard and Budweiser. Enterprise and Bridgestone, meanwhile, flaunt their brands at National Hockey League games.

While these multinational corporations pour hundreds of millions of dollars into these sports events, CBD companies – despite much smaller budgets – are coming up fast behind them. Sumichrast pegs cbdMD’s annual sponsorship budget at $15 million to $20 million a year, paying athletes to wear the brand on their hats or appear in a promotional video

Whatever they promotional tiype, cbdMD’s investment represents a big chunk of this public company’s $50 million in annual revenues.

But that makes sense, given the millions of fans who follow sports and the huge opportunities those stadiums present for brand name recognition. Sumichrast and his co-CEO Scott Coffman recognized this early and now consider themselves No. 1 in the sponsorship game. Others agree: “cbdMD is one of the bigger names in the CBD space,” Daily CBD wrote, including on that oist Infinite CBD, Lazarus Naturals, DEFY, Medterra and Flav.

There’s political reasoning here, of course, based on cannabis’s continued status at the federal level as a Schedule 1 “narcotic,” a fact which makes national companies nervous.

“Even today, you can’t get CBS, ESPN, ABC, NBC,” Sumichrast said, referring to the difficulty putting his brand on national TV. “The big box retailers won’t take any of your product. They’ll take some of your topicals, but that’s not really where the true sales of the product are. Those are digestibles, gummies, gel caps.”

Tier one sports leagues (baseball, football, basketball and hockey won’t participate in sponsorships either because most still prohibit their athletes from using CBD and other cannabis products.

For this reason, cbdMD pursues partnerships with athletes in secondary tier sports like surf, skate boarding, martial arts – and golf. A small sample:

  • Surf: Makua Rothman won the 2003 Billabong XXL and the Big Wave Challenge Award and in 2015 was World Surf League Big Wave World Tour champ. He surfed a 100-foot wave in December.
  • Bodybuilding: James “Flex” Lewis is a seven-time Mr. Olympian.
  • Rallycross: Ken Block is a five-time X-Games gold medalist.
  • Mixed martial arts: Daniel Cormier is a UFC Light Heavyweight champ and UFC Heavyweight Champ
  • Golf: Patrick Reed is a PGA Tour golfer, a 2018 Masters champion and a two-time Ryder Cup Team USA member.
  • Golf: Bubba Watson has been a 12-time PGA Tour winner and a two-time Master’s champion.

Watson, in particular, is known for touting cbdMD’s topicals, gummies and tinctures to ease the pain any of us might suffer hitting ball speeds of up to 194 mph. But in a 2020 interview, Watson also spoke of the anxiety and insomnia that he successfully addressed with CBD: “My whole focus is about sleep,” the golfer told functional sports M.D. Ara Suppiah.

“So when I got better sleep, it obviously gave me the energy to focus more, gave me the situation to deal with the situations that arise in my life. So that lowered the level of anxiety and stress. Previously, on the golf course, Watson said, “I was fidgety, jumping around” and likely to think about everything else besides his next swing.

“For us, all our athletes are huge customers; all our athletes use our products,” Sumichrast said. “It’s genuine, not just ‘Hey, I’m paying you; you’re going to promote the product.’”

The CEO is quick to note that his products test free of measurable THC, a situation that could get an athlete ejected from his or her league. It’s a big enough threat that Bubba Watson said (in the video) that he self-tests on a regular basis.

Yet even CBD products with almost zero THC can be a tough sell at the top tier of sports, Sumichrast says. That issue mays lessen or disappear as more of the big leagues permit their athletes to use CBD.

NFL struck a deal to allow these products in 2020 but still bans THC. The NHL has always had a lenient approach. But CBD is still a no-no for the MLB, NBA and WNBA, though there are moves afoot in these leagues to reverse that rule.

“You’re boxed out of those important things,” Sumichrast acknowledges of these players’ rules. As a result, he says, “in order to get exposure for the brand, you have to try to find a way … and athletes are a great way to do that.”


Joan Oleck
Joan Oleck
Cannabis Journalist
Joan Oleck is a freelance writer currently specializing in the cannabis industry and cannabis tech. She has been an editor and reporter on staff for such publications as, Business Week, Newsday and The Detroit News. She won the Jesse Neal Award for best feature series in a trade publication, Restaurant Business, and a GLAAD Award for a Salon story about discrimination in adoption against single and gay parents

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