Will action star White take flight from Red Bull?
Olympic gold medalist and action sports star Shaun White and Red Bull haven’t come to terms on a renewal of their three-year relationship, opening the door for one of the nation’s most recognizable athletes to sign with a new beverage partner.
Top Athlete Endorsers
The Davie-Brown Index endorsement score ranks the degree to which consumers identify an athlete as being an effective product
Note: Among the more than 2,800 celebrities in the DBI database, White ranks in the top 30, ahead of Jennifer Aniston, Katy Perry and George Clooney, and just behind Brees, the late Paul Newman and Rodgers. Consumers also consider him to be a trendsetter. His score in the DBI's Trendsetter attribute puts him in the top 20 in the DBI database, alongside Tina Fey, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. No other athlete ranks in the top 35.
Source: The Marketing Arm
White’s deal with Red Bull, valued at more than $1 million a year, ended after the Winter X Games in January, according to sources. Since then, his team of agents at CAA has been pitching beverage companies on an endorsement deal worth more than $3 million a year. They have discussed a renewal with Red Bull, approached Coca-Cola and talked to Pepsi about a deal with its Mountain Dew or Gatorade brands, but haven’t signed anything to date.
Sources said brands are objecting to the pricing of the youth marketing magnet and demands for creative authority and control over any content created.
“There are creative demands … and they only want to give you two or three days of his time,” said one marketer who had been in talks with White’s representatives at CAA. “I wouldn’t do that deal in an Olympic year, and this isn’t an Olympic year.”
Representatives for White could not be reached for comment.
Though White’s services are being shopped to the world’s biggest soft drink companies, Red Bull’s U.S. sports marketing chief Chris Mater said his company’s partnership with the snowboarder could be rekindled.
“We’re still in discussions for him to stay with Red Bull,” Mater said. “He’s been a great face for our brand.”
The more than $3 million price tag that CAA has placed on a future beverage partnership with White is reflective of the Olympian’s growing fame. In 2010, White had the highest Sports Q Score among active athletes. His score was second only to Michael Jordan and ranked ahead of Peyton Manning, Joe Montana and Arnold Palmer, underscoring the appeal and likability he’s earned as an elite snowboarder and the value he delivers to mainstream brands he endorses, such as Target and BFGoodrich. Similarly, the Davie-Brown Index puts him in the top 10 among athletes in the endorsement category, which reflects the degree to which consumers identify a celebrity as an effective spokesperson.
Their three-year partnership resulted in one of the most imaginative marketing stunts of 2009. The energy drink company built a backcountry superpipe in the Rocky Mountains accessible only by helicopter. They called the effort Red Bull Project X and flew White into the superpipe to train for the 2010 Olympics so that he could practice new tricks there without being seen by any of his competitors. The pipe had Red Bull logos and a Red Bull-branded foam pit, and the company posted video of White training there online. CBS even taped a “60 Minutes” segment on White there before the Olympics. Footage from the pipe has been viewed 2.5 million times on YouTube.
“That was an incredibly organic activation piece that shows how Red Bull supports their athletes, and it put Shaun in a different light, giving him a coolness factor of having something no other athlete had,” said Bob Walker, president of Connexions Sports & Entertainment, an action sports agency that works with freestyle motocross star Brian Deegan. “You can’t put a value on the media value of that.”
White’s next big competition is the Dew Tour Pantech Open in Ocean City, Md., July 21-24. He then will compete in skateboard vert at the Summer X Games. Though he hasn’t committed to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, he is expected to compete there for his third consecutive gold medal in snowboard halfpipe.
White, 24, is one of the few action sports athletes who provides partners with year-round exposure. He is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in snowboard halfpipe and an accomplished skateboarder who won an X Games gold medal in vert in 2007. But even with his year-round visibility and success, a $3 million to $6 million deal will be tough to sell.
“I don’t see any brand paying that type of money for him during these economic times,” Walker said, “but if anyone can get it, Shaun can because of the Olympic program.”
Pepsi and Coca-Cola have a history in action sports. Pepsi’s Mountain Dew brand sponsors the NBC- and MTV-owned Dew Tour and has a history of sponsoring athletes ranging from snowboarder Hannah Teter to skater Paul Rodriguez. Coca-Cola signed Olympic snowboarders Ross Powers, Danny Kass and J.J. Thomas in 2002 for a campaign supporting their Nestea brand. Coke could use White across a portfolio of brands ranging from Glacéau to Powerade to Sprite.
Other possible fits would be the energy drinks Rockstar, an independently owned beverage distributed by Frucor Beverages, and Monster Energy, a Hansen Natural-owned beverage distributed by Coke. Another proposal being floated is exchanging White’s services for an equity stake in a startup beverage brand, sources familiar with the proposals said.
White left his longtime agent, Mark Ervin, and IMG a year ago. Since signing with CAA, he has signed deals with BFGoodrich Tires and Stride. His other sponsors are Burton, Target, Oakley, Ubisoft and Park City Mountain Resort.