A sporting chance: CBD operators touting products as healthy choices for athletes

Athletes have long been using cannabis products to fight inflammation and recover from injury. But drug-testing rules and marijuana stigma historically kept athletic cannabis use a locker-room secret.

That’s all changing, thanks to CBD. Today, athletes are finding they can tap into the healing properties of cannabis without the intoxicating effects.

CBD got an even bigger boost among athletes in January, when the influential World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed cannabidiol from its list of banned substances. The change freed athletes at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea to use CBD and has prompted an explosion of CBD products aimed at athletes.

Now, CBD producers are using new marketing strategies to position their products as healthy choices for professional athletes and weekend warriors.

It’s a different strategy than marketing cannabis for a recreational or medicinal audience. We interviewed several entrepreneurs who are succeeding in marketing to athletes to get their insights on how to sell CBD. Here are four of their best tips:


1. Ingredients matter

A former college basketball player, Will Carr discovered CBD while recovering from a case of turf toe (a ligament injury common to football players) after retiring. But he didn’t like the way CBD was typically sold – usually as a tincture, pill or vape pen. He wanted a nutritional product that didn’t combine CBD with sugar or other unhealthy ingredients.

So, he developed WillPower protein powders, which deliver full-spectrum CBD along with proteins, whey powder and amino acids.

“Athletes want the highest level of nutrition they can possibly find,” he said.


2. Don’t overpromise

Athletes’ biggest concern about using CBD is the fear of failing a drug test, so CBD products aimed at athletes should clearly label THC levels, especially products that have zero THC.

But companies should take care not to promise athletes they won’t risk a positive result, said Robert Chavez, CEO of Avant-Garde Holdings Americas, a Miami company that makes CBD products aimed at athletes.

“Everybody takes it at their own risk,” Chavez said. “We as a company can’t guarantee test results. No responsible company should be promising anybody that they’re going to pass a test.


3. THC still has a place

Though some athletes want a CBD supplement with no trace of THC, others may want a THC product to relax or unwind with no calories and no hangover. A professional UFC fighter who wanted a nonalcoholic way to relax inspired The Source dispensaries in Nevada to make a THC- and CBD-blended vape pen called Golden Night. “Athletes are fighting all day; they’re working all day,” said Dan Zarella, head of marketing for The Source. “At the end of the day, they’re looking to unwind like anybody else.


4. Consider sponsorships

Sponsoring an athlete or a team is one of the oldest, most proven marketing maneuvers. But cannabis resistance from the four major U.S. professional sports leagues – Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Football League and National Hockey League – means that sponsorships there are off the table for now.

In the meantime, some CBD entrepreneurs seeking a share of the sports market haven’t written off sponsorships, instead seeking alliances with leagues and events more comfortable with risk. Just last month, Pure Spectrum CBD of Evergreen, Colorado, saw its brand splashed on CBS Sports broadcasts nationwide through its sponsorship of the CrossFit Games, an amateur contest for the iconic cross-training gyms. Pure Spectrum also sponsors mixed-martial artists and other athletes whose leagues aren’t as shy about promoting CBD.

“Every major sport, they don’t allow marijuana. And I don’t see that changing, even though the use (of CBD) among their players is pretty widespread,” said Brady Bell, Pure Spectrum’s CEO.