SBJ/20100531/This Week's News

Whiteout

Three months ago, IMG’s Mark Ervin stood in the center of a group of Shaun White’s family and friends at the base of Cypress Mountain celebrating with the snowboarding icon moments after he clinched his second Olympic gold medal. At the time, Ervin and White seemed inseparable.

It turns out they aren’t.

After eight years of working together, White last week dropped Ervin and IMG for CAA. He now is represented by a team of CAA agents who will work to develop marketing partnerships, appearances and television, music and motion picture opportunities for the 23-year-old.

CAA declined to comment, and Ervin did not return calls for comment.

IMG spokesman Jim Gallagher confirmed White’s defection and said, “We’re very proud of the work we did for Shaun and wish him continued success in the future.”

White is the most recognizable action sports athlete in the U.S. His Davie-Brown Index score (72.41) outranks fellow action stars Tony Hawk, Ryan Sheckler and Bam Margera. His awareness level, a 73.94, is comparable to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

White reportedly earns more than $7.5 million a year in endorsements and prize money. While at IMG, he and Ervin built a healthy portfolio of blue-chip sponsors that includes Burton, Red Bull, Target, Oakley and video game maker Ubisoft. The deals with Burton, Target and Oakley all include a signature line designed by White.

White had a reputation for being selective about corporate partnerships, and Ervin worked to finalize deals that gave White a voice in the partnership. With Burton, White designed his own line of apparel called the White Collection. With Target, he developed his own line of lifestyle apparel under the Shaun White 4 Target label.

IMG will continue to receive commissions in the future on those deals and others it cut for White.

Under Ervin, White transcended action sports and became a crossover star, appearing on the cover of Men’s Journal and Fast Company and joining the rotation of celebrities featured in American Express’ “My Card” campaign. The two began their partnership eight years ago after White left Steve Astephen, now the head of WMG’s action sports division.

White, a snowboarding prodigy who signed his first sponsorship as a 7-year-old, gained mainstream awareness by winning a gold medal at the 2006 Olympics with a last-to-first finish in halfpipe that was followed by a memorable, tear-filled celebration with his mom and dad. Afterward, he appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated and “The Tonight Show.”

Ervin closed a handful of significant deals for White afterward, including endorsements with Hewlett-Packard and Motorola as well as the AmEx commercial. And White furthered his fame by continuing to dominate non-Olympic snowboard competitions and winning the 2007 Summer X Games gold medal in skateboard halfpipe.

Shaun’s world (clockwise from top): Taking questions
at an Oakley media event, ads for Target and American
Express, Rolling Stone cover boy

His achievements made him one of the hottest tickets at this year’s Vancouver Olympics. Heading into the Olympics, he was everywhere. “60 Minutes” did a feature on him, USA Today put him on the cover of its sports section and ESPN The Magazine made him the face of its February issue.

Coming out of the Olympics, where he won his second gold medal, he appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone again and made the late-show circuit, appearing on “The Tonight Show,” “The Colbert Report” and “Lopez Tonight.” But he failed to sign any new endorsement deals.

Whether the lack of endorsement deals contributed to White’s decision to leave Ervin and IMG remains unclear.

Sources close to Ervin and White said White was disappointed in the public relations effort that followed his gold-medal performance in Vancouver, and he recently cut ties with his publicist, Crystal Garrett.

Around the same time he made that change, White met with CAA about television, music and movie opportunities. Not long after the meeting, he decided that he would leave IMG for CAA.

Ervin will stay with IMG. His primary client there is skier Lindsay Vonn, who also works with IMG agent Sue Dorf.

White’s career is far from over. He is expected to compete in a third Olympics in Sochi in 2014. He also plans to continue skateboarding and already has committed to this summer’s Dew Tour Skate Open, June 25-26, in Boston.

Despite those opportunities, it won’t be easy for CAA to generate revenue around its newest star. White has a reputation for being very selective about endorsements, and he already boasts a healthy and demanding list of partners. Those issues will test CAA as it looks to create new opportunities for White.

In spite of that, White still offers upside for CAA. His addition to the agency’s ever-expanding roster of athletes immediately makes CAA a player in action sports. If the agency is successful in representing White, it could lead other action sports athletes to consider CAA for representation.

White is the second major action sports athlete to join CAA. The agency signed supercross star James “Bubba” Stewart in January.

White’s closest adviser, his brother Jesse, will continue to be involved in the business at CAA.

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