The IDV/Heublein brand's niche is under siege, as alternative and extreme sports explode in popularity, and a growing number of sponsors get behind new events such as in-line skate hockey and mountain bike racing in the snow.
The competition to be on the cutting edge of weird is so fierce that Cuervo invented its own new sport this year by combining wakeboarding with snowboarding for the first-ever Cuervo Gold Board to Board Championship.
A WHOLE NEW EVENT
The made-for-TV event required each athlete to compete in wakeboarding-a new variation on waterskiing using smaller boards-on the Columbia River in Oregon, followed by snowboarding the next day atop a glacier on Mt. Hood.
The two-day event in July drew crowds of several hundred at sea level then snow level. It airs several times on ESPN2 this month.
Cuervo deems the event a hit because it was difficult to explain to the sports press.
"It's hard to explain and no one's ever heard of it, which is exactly what we seek. Everything we do has to be totally unique and unmistakable to our audience as extreme, unusual and new," said Scott Mueller, manager of public relations and event marketing at the importer.
NEXT YEAR IN HAWAII
Cuervo recently announced it will sponsor a second Board to Board event next year in Hawaii, when surfing will be added to the challenges as athletes tackle the waves at Ho'okipa, Maui, and snowboard atop the Mauna Kea volcano.
The purse will again be $30,000, with broader TV coverage.
The events were handled by Cuervo's longtime event marketing partner Carson International, Ketchum, Idaho, which has conceived and developed many of Cuervo's events since the late 1980s, Mr. Mueller said.
Cuervo's success in getting high publicity and brand awareness from attention-getting events has bred a following among rival liquor marketers, as well as makers of apparel, soft drinks and eyewear.
"There's been such an explosion of individualized and extreme sports that sponsors are piling onto the newer and more unique sports, making our job tougher," Mr. Mueller said.
Cuervo is rising to the challenge by investing even more money in unknown new events, he said, although he would not disclose total expenditures.
"It's essential to our brand image to sponsor the boldest, most surprising stuff because our audience is young and rebellious and that's how they know us," Mr. Mueller said.
BEACH VOLLEYBALL PIONEER
Cuervo was the first major sponsor to latch onto beach volleyball in the early 1980s when it was a fringe sport dominated by unruly players who bucked tradition and insulted the traditional sport of volleyball.
But when Miller Lite discovered beach volleyball, along with a herd of other mainstream sponsors, Cuervo backed away. It found new niche events to sponsor including "urban volleyball," grassroots Frisbee and flag football played by wacky rules.
Cuervo's volleyball sponsorship evolved this year into a series of games played on downtown city streets with tons of imported sand in nine markets.
The series culminates in a $30,000 championship slated for Oct. 25-26 at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fla.
Cuervo will also hold its annual "Margarita Bowl" flag football championships in San Diego in January, spoofing the Super Bowl.
"Our goal is to be out in front with the strangest, most fun new sports. If we