Red Bull made sure to keep us all hydrated, caffeinated and intoxicated in preparation for another great discussion held by Group Y at the Red Bull headquarters in Santa Monica which was co-sponsored by Fuel TV. The panel consisted of four influential figures in the action sports industry: Chris Stiepock VP and GM of X Games Franchise, Per Welinder President of Blitz Distribution and Chairman of the Board, IASC, Todd Roberts co-owner of ZJ Boarding House and Chairman of Board Retailers Association, and Don Brown senior VP of Sole Technology. Angelo Ponzi senior marketing executive and co-founder of Board-Trac, Inc. led the hour long discussion inquiring the panel about how each of their businesses has been affected by the shift in popularity, accessibility and distribution of action sports role models and product in their involvement in the industry.
Angelo started the discussion with a statistic that in 2001, 23% of mainstream America’s purchase decisions of apparel, shoes, and accessories were influenced by action sports. By 2008, that number jumped to 60%. How has this spike in popularity come about, how has it changed the business and how will it continue to alter the action sports industry in the future?
The panelist teetered from serious responses to light laughter provoking jabs throughout the discussion. Topics covered ranged from accurate and inaccurate portrayal of action sports in the media, the shift in marketing over the years and the effect of larger corporations capitalizing off the sweat and blood of die-hards in the industry.
Publicity influenced by movies, Olympics, and corporate sponsorship does indeed build brands and increase sales in both hardgoods and apparel. As Per Welinder points out, however, when a larger non-endemic brand is better able to financially back an athlete, the hardgoods brands in the sport have a more difficult time being primarily associated with that athlete.
Sometimes the integrity of the professional athletes and the company heads in action sports brands is questioned. Less efficient management of smaller operations is also an issue. Larger corporate brands have access to a marketing staff which may or may not give a shit about action sports but could sell speedos to a surfer if need be. Whatever the case, a lifestyle considered as sacred as Jerusalem to those who religiously cherished their rebellion in action sports has appealed to the masses on an undeniably superficial level. What at first was a way to make quick extra cash off “posers” has become what some view as a threat to the sanctity of action sports.
A hot topic was the specifically generation sensitive influence of the internet on the industry from the consumer, to retail, to distribution, to marketing. The internet has allowed news and marketing to cross the globe instantaneously. At the retail level, as the mainstream adopted action sports more and more, local retailers thrived. Todd Roberts of ZJ Boarding House has noticed that in recent years the availability of discounted product from various online vendors has been the biggest threat to small scale retailers. Consequentially, specialty retailers have been used for their expertise without being rewarded with business.
The panel concluded with talk about the future. Special events and quality in-store experiences are key in maintaining the core of action sports. Let it not be forgotten that the bad ass events that we all love to attend are primarily funded by the mainstream participation in the action sports world. As long as mainstream remained distant and the cash flow provided was the main effect noticed at the core we could live harmoniously on one planet. But when the core no longer exists, what does the mainstream have to model itself after? Both parties need each other; the mainstream lives vicariously through their action sports heroes and is absolutely necessary to reward the stars with the truly admirable reckless abandon mentality of action sports or die. Cake’s very wise frontman John McCrea has already posed this life long question which is applicable to the current state-of-affairs in the action sports industry; “How do you afford your Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle?”
Check out the full event photo gallery at ZexSports.