SBD/November 10, 2010/People And Pop Culture

Catching Up With Skateboard Legend And Author Tony Hawk

Tony Hawk Earned $12M In '08 From His Company
As improbable as it was for TONY HAWK to land a 900 at the X Games in '99, his greatest feat may be converting such unprecedented athletic achievement into sustainable business success. He walked away from his professional skateboarding career at 31 and created Tony Hawk Inc., a multimillion-dollar international company that earned him $12M in '08. The linchpin of that success has been his successful video game series, which continues with the recently released "Tony Hawk: Shred." He chronicles his entrepreneurial success in a new book, "How Did I Get Here? The Ascent of an Unlikely CEO." SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Tripp Mickle spoke with him last week about his evolution as a CEO.

Q: Tony Hawk Inc. employs about 25 people now. How involved are you day-to-day in the operation, and what do you typically do?
Hawk: I'm mostly thinking up projects and ideas and skating.

Q: How does skating factor into the job?
Hawk: Being out there and walking the walk and still understanding what's happening and being in the mix is important. If I remove myself from that element, I feel like I would be out of touch with so much of the other aspects. For me, it's my creative outlet, so I have to get out there and do it.

Q
: Other skateboarders have launched their own businesses on the side, but not everyone has enjoyed the longevity you have. What differentiated you in the business realm from others?
Hawk: I was able to branch out into different areas that others didn't consider or didn't want to branch out to. I always thought that there was more to skateboarding than the general public saw and I wanted to promote that as best I could. A lot of people didn't want that attention drawn to skating.

Q
: What's an example of that?
Hawk: When I first got on the radar with something mainstream, I did a tour with ESPN where we went to various skateparks and did exhibitions and we filmed it for a TV show. A lot of people thought that was way too mainstream for skateboarding, but I was really happy to bring the crowds out, do a live show and present it to a television audience. I thought it showcased skateboarding well.

Q: Where do brands go wrong when they try to market to an action sports audience?
Hawk: They try to use clichéd buzz words and graphics and layouts without consulting people who really skate. That mistake is made less now because people are more savvy, but eight to 10 years ago, big-name advertising agencies would throw whatever they thought skating was about on big billboards.

Q: When people ask you for business advice, what do you tell them?
Hawk: I tell them to follow their passion and learn everything they can about every single aspect of what they want to do, and to approach challenges as learning opportunities as opposed to stumbling blocks.

Q: What do you feel like you've had to learn that wasn't part of your skill set when you started your businesses?
Hawk: I learned that to grow a business takes more money. It's not like if you have a successful product, you just rake in the money. If you want to have a successful business, you have to put up more risk and invest more capital. That was something I never paid attention to before.

Q
: The exclusive relationship Tony Hawk Inc. has at Kohl's is somewhat unusual. Did you catch grief for that because it was a mainstream, national retailer?
Hawk: To be honest, we get more compliments than anything because there were so many parents who wanted to buy their kids that type of clothing but couldn't afford it. We made it at an affordable price there. The decision was Quiksilver's, which has a license to Huck clothing. They struck the deal. Initially, when they told me about it, I had a concern about quality control and marketing. There was about a year of a learning process where I had to teach the guys at Kohl's about how to represent skateboarding authentically.

Q: The gaming world is where you made your name, and that world is changing. Tony Hawk game sales have dipped. How much does that concern you?
Hawk: The market is so splintered. It used to be like blockbuster movies where there were just a handful of big titles and those were the ones you were drawn to. Now, it's not even like that any more. The fact that we were able to create a skateboarding genre in gaming, I'm really proud of that, and the fact that there are a lot of different games to choose from, I'm proud of that.

Q: The Boom Boom Huck Jam, the event enterprise you created, is no longer around. Was the event business harder than the other enterprises you undertook?
Hawk: It's not that it was harder. It was just really challenging when the economy took a downturn because we couldn't find a title sponsor. I always said that the ticket price of Huck Jam can't be too expensive. We needed sponsorship money to offset the cost and the last major sponsor we had was T-Mobile. After that, it was really, really difficult for anyone to pony up the kind of sponsorship money that could justify us keeping ticket sales affordable. It wasn't that it was hard. The timing was just bad.

Q: Do you think you'll start another tour when sponsorship dollars return?
Hawk: Sure. I still have all the ramps. I'm ready to go. Any time someone is ready to write a check, we'll hit the road.
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