4 Cash-Sucking Translation Mistakes Action Sports Brands Make and How to Fix Them

Martina Russo, Lead Italian Translator & Founder

24 February 2020

It’s no secret that the sports industry generates billions in annual revenues worldwide.

According to a recent market report by, the sports market reached a global value of nearly USD 488.5 billion in 2018, and is expected to grow to nearly USD 614.1 billion by 2022.

While these figures refer to the entire sports industry, we also know that action and extreme sports are increasingly growing in popularity.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you work within the action sports industry and need no intros. If you’re just snooping around, here’s a quick heads-up on what action (or adventure) sports are all about:

Action Sports is a term used to encapsulate a group of individual sports on a continuum from leisure to adrenaline pulsating, such as BMX, snowboarding, skateboarding, surfing, MTB, skiing, wakeboarding, motocross, and any sport that derived from the core, which could include wakesurfing or stand-up paddling.

Urban Dictionary

Sports vs action sports: Different markets

One important distinction to make when we look at trends in the sports industry is the difference between spectator and participatory sports.

Typically, in extreme sports we see a higher number of people who practice the sports, rather than watch athletes perform their favorite sport on TV.

Think about your friends: How many will stream a YouTube video of a climber ascending an epic 8c+ sport route, but have never been on rock themselves? The chance is – next to none.

And how many enjoy spending their Saturday afternoon watching the League, but don’t play football in their spare time? Probably most.

The target market for action sports brands is completely different from mainstream sports’ consumers. The action sports brand’s target audience seeks the thrill of adventure and adrenaline first-hand, whenever and however they can.

As Extreme puts it:


Adventure Sports and Extreme Sports – also called Action Sports – are not like mainstream sports. They are crawling with rebels, riders, drivers and rock stars. It’s not about uniforms, coaches or scripts. Expressing yourself through action is the key, it’s an attitude, a way of life, even a religion. Once you’re in, you’re in for life.


Action sports: a spike in popularity & Tokyo 2020

According to Extreme, a marketing & media agency for action sports brands, extreme and adventure sports are growing rapidly in contrast to most traditional sports.

For example, in the last 20 years participation in skateboarding has surged 49% and snowboarding is up by 51%, while basketball participation has decreased by 17%.

At the upcoming Olympic Games – Tokyo 2020 – action sports will be in the spotlight like never before, as they account for 3 out of the 5 new disciplines: Rock climbing, surfing, and skateboarding.



Translation in the action sports industry

Action sports brands have a global reach and an international customer base.

They often sponsor athletes in different countries across the world, so they can grow and engage with sports enthusiasts near and far, regardless of the language they speak.

As you may have guessed from our name – here at The Action Sports Translator we specialize in translating content for brands in the adventure sports and outdoors industry. So we constantly watch these trends and are deeply immersed in the culture.

We’ve been working with clients big and small to help them sell their products abroad and grow their foreign-speaking communities.

And we’ve learnt a thing or two about how most extreme sports brands tackle their translation needs.

Typically, they go down one of these roads:

  • They work with a non-specialized translation service provider
  • They assign all translation tasks to in-house employees
  • They use machine translation
  • They don’t translate their content at all.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these options.

#1 Action sports brand hires a generalist translation agency

We can’t really blame them: There aren’t many translation agencies who specialize exclusively in the extreme sports niche. Even our own company is relatively new.

We’re not here to speak ill of anyone, but let’s be honest: Most generalist translation agencies are, well, generalist: by focusing on several industries – like the legal, financial or corporate sectors – they won’t likely be able to provide a truly specialized service for the adventure sports sector.

Yes, any translation professional can dive deep into research, stumble upon terms, and learn about the sports.

But they won’t know that feeling of clipping the chains on the sport climbing route you’ve been projecting, or what it’s like to ride the perfect wave – and your customers will be able to tell.


Real-life case study: We started working with a platform that lets people log their sports achievements and share them with the world. They had previously been working with a generalist translation agency to help them make their content available globally and grow.

We immediately noticed that 90% of the terminology hadn’t been translated correctly, and the register (tone of voice) was far too formal for their target users.

Not only was the text not appealing; it was – with all probability – killing sign-up rates; creating distance between the brand and the reader by using the wrong register; and it gave wrong information in the ‘How-to’ sections, which could have potentially lead to serious accidents in real life.

In other words, these translations were hurting the business’ bottom line.

We were able to quickly turn things around by assigning the project to one of our qualified translators who practices this sport first-hand, and is therefore familiar with the terminology.



#2 Action sports brand assigns translation tasks to in-house employees

This is probably the second most widely-used strategy by brands in the action sports industry.

Brand X has a few employees who speak one or two foreign languages and assigns all translation tasks to them.

When it comes to making internal communications (like emails) intelligible to distributors abroad, or to employees from an office based in another country, it can definitely work.

But when it comes to translating marketing material, websites, apps, landing pages, product sheets and more, it should be a big, fat no.


Problem #1:

It’s likely that these translations will be carried out by non-native speakers of the language they’re meant to be distributed in.

I hate to break it to you, but translating exclusively into one’s native language is one of the top rules of any translation professional or agency.

That’s because – however long you’ve been speaking or studying a language – it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to capture all the nuances and communicate like a true native speaker. And your customers will be able to tell.


Problem #2:

Your in-house employees have a good grasp of all the terminology related to your sport and brand, but they lack technical translation skills.

Why does it matter? Because it takes a translator (with academic qualifications) several years to truly master the fine art of converting words, ideas, concepts and meanings between two languages.

Here at The Action Sports Translator we have several decades of combined specialist experience, and we know the difference between translations that enhance your brand’s reputation, connect with your community and sell your products… and those that won’t.

Your in-house employees probably also have other marketing, PR, social media tasks to take care of. Having to devote some of that time to translation– instead of focusing on what they do best – might also affect their productivity.

Problem #3:

Your in-house team can’t cope with the amount of content you’re producing in your local language.

We see this over and over again: your (in-house or freelance) copywriters put out thousands of words every week.

Your in-house employees (who are already taking time off their main tasks to do translations, which probably take even longer than they should, because they aren’t native speakers and don’t possess the necessary trained translation skill and tools…) struggle to keep up with it all.

As a result, your website is only partially translated and your visitors end up more confused than ever.


Real-life case study: We were approached by a company that makes specific safety tools for sports enthusiasts and athletes.

The original content was translated into English by an in-house non-native speaker, resulting in a text that was riddled with mistakes of grammatical and stylistic nature – making it hard for the target audience to grasp. A wrong or unclear interpretation could easily result in a fatal accident.

We revised all the content and made it safety-compliant, also helping the company enhance its products perceived value.


#3 Action sports brand uses machine translation

We don’t really want to sound cliché but using machine translation on your website is a bad idea.

There are some applications and uses you could get away with, provided you work with a professional to edit the copy first. For example: long and repetitive product descriptions and item lists.

Blog posts, marketing collaterals, website copy? Nope.

At ‘best’, you risk driving your costumers away and looking sloppy in front of your international audience. At worst, your text is likely to make no sense and even offend your public.


Real-life case study: Brand X makes everyday accessories for action and extreme sports enthusiasts. Their target audience are young, cool, irreverent people who like adventure and being on top of current fashion trends.

They set up a website and thought that letting the Google translation plug-in make their content available to overseas customers in one click was a good idea.

Wrong. Google (and other machine translation engines) can’t understand context. In the action sports industry in particular, you really need to navigate your way through a lot of that (think of all the slang and jargon we use on a daily basis!).

As a result, most of the translated website copy was nonsensical, while a good chunk of it (product names and marketing taglines) was rendered with the most vulgar words you can imagine. Not to mention how CTAs were completely butchered, making them totally useless.

The brand’s image was damaged, and its mission / marketing message was completely lost in translation.

We proposed human-powered creative translations to bring back order in their online chaos.


#4 Action sports brand doesn’t translate their content

Lack of budget may sometimes be a issue, but the power of translating content is often grossly underestimated.

Let’s take one of the new Tokyo 2020 extreme sports as an example: rock climbing.

Some of the world’s biggest climbing communities – such as Spain, France or Italy – have a poor grasp of the English language – which incidentally is the language in which most climbing brands produce their content.

A staggering amount of content produced via YouTube videos (sponsored athletes), films, websites, catalogues, marketing materials is usually left in English.

As a direct result, many brands are leaving money on the table or simply missing out on truly connecting with sport enthusiasts.

For example, adding foreign language subtitles to short videos or films is a quick and cost-effective way to make your content immediately available to your biggest foreign-speaking communities. 

However, you really need to get this right. 85% of the online videos we come across have sloppy subtitles, both grammatically and technically, which your audience will struggle to follow.

If you are planning to add subtitles to your athlete content videos or commercial videos, please shoot us a line and we’ll send you a guide with best practices free of charge.



How we can help you

Surprise surprise! Here comes the paragraph where we offer a solution to your problem and explain how we can help you crack new markets or strengthen your relationship with existing ones.

Everyone in our team is a trained professional translator, but also an extreme sport lover. We are skiers, snowboarders, freeriders, surfers, trail runners, climbers, boulderers – whatever you can think of, name it – and can cover a wide array of language combinations and markets.

Some of our team members are or used to be semi-professional athletes, so we’re not trying to overpitch when we say we truly specialize in the action sports industry.

We are the action sports industry.

If you are thinking of expanding your business abroad or improving your current local presence, drop us a line.

Send us an email to now – we will help you scale globally while avoiding embarrassing cultural or terminological pitfalls.

Contact us now for a free chat. ?