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Volume 20 No. 42
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Action sports athletes feel the pinch as endorsement market evolves

Properties aren’t the only division of the action sports industry that has run into sales challenges. Athletes have, as well.

Endemic sponsors, who once served as the backbone of athletes’ endorsement portfolios, have reduced the number of athletes they sponsor in recent years. Quiksilver, Burton, Nike and others have chosen to sign fewer athletes and center their marketing around well-known stars rather than up-and-coming talent.

“We’re putting more eggs into fewer baskets,” said Doug Palladini, Vans’ general manager. “We’re trying to go narrow and deep with the people that turn the dial.”

Action sports agents trace the change in approach back to the recession and say that it caused endemic and nonendemic sponsors alike to be more judicious in the number of personal-service agreements they sign.

“There seems to be more of a quality versus quantity approach from brands,” said Mark Ervin of IMG, which represents Japanese snowboard star Ayumu Hirano. “They’re decreasing the size of their roster and honing in on the athletes they can activate around.”

Around the time of the recession, endemic brands also went through a period of consolidation. Vans went from signing footwear-only deals to head-to-toe sponsorships. Nike went from signing deals across multiple brands like Nike 6.0 and Nike SB to concentrating on Nike alone. That meant fewer brands for athletes to work with.

“Brands are taking what they did with fringe athletes and putting more of it behind one guy and trying to leverage that guy,” said Bob Walker, who represents freestyle motocross star Brian Deegan. “It hurts the guy coming up, but the guys at the top paid the price to get there.”