HOW CORPORATIONS ARE CHANGING SKATEBOARDING AND WHY IT MATTERS

In the past decade there has been a huge increase in the level of corporate involvement in skateboarding, and we may be returning to a form of skateboarding that Steve Rocco, Mike Vallely, Mark Gonzales, and others desperately tried to escape in the early 1990’s.

New members within the skate community, like Eric Wiseman, Phil Knight, Herbert Hainer, the Maloofs, Gary Ream, William Sweedler, Neil Cole, and Andrew Kline, are all challenging what it means to be a skateboarder and how we skateboard. These men (that have probably never stepped foot on a skateboard) run or are the money behind VF Corp [Vans], Nike, Adidas, Maloof Money Cup, Woodward, Sequential Brands [DVS], Iconix [Zoo York], and Park Lane Sports Investment Banking [Street League]. Through their economic capital, and power outside of skateboarding they have been able to force their way into powerful positions within skateboarding and are able to directly profit off of our activity. Should we care if non-skaters are allowed to hold powerful positions in our culture? Should we care if skaters associate with these people and buy their products? Will it change how we skateboard, how we view ourselves, and how we view the world?

iconix brand - owns zoo york, rocawear, ed hardy and many more / photo: rob tannenbaum

Of course! As skateboarders we all share social space and none of us exist in a vacuum (in some way all of our actions affect the skate culture as a whole and every skater within it). Within this social space our collective actions have produced and emphasized how important creativity, autonomy, cooperation, and fun are within skateboarding. These values make up the dominant ideology within skateboarding, which shapes our identities, how we view the world and how we act within it. But as more and more corporations enter the activity, they are challenging and attempting to shift the dominant ideology and performance of skateboarding into something that allows them to rationally fulfill their sole purpose: the pursuit of profit. If they are successful it may not change the ideology or performance of skaters like myself that have been involved in the activity for many years, but it will change the ideology, the space, and economics of skateboarding for younger skaters, and alienate older skaters from a social world they helped create and maintain until it was invaded by and sold to outsiders.

Many of these outsiders are attempting to run skateboarding with the same principles that drive many modern corporations, which are completely incompatible with street-skating as we know it. As George Ritzer points out in The McDonaldization of Society, businesses attempt to operate in an extremely efficient fashion. They focus on making everything quantifiable (skatemetrics) rather than focusing on creating subjective quality (“best” video part), they want everything to be predictable (i.e. standardized, the same experience every time), and they want all aspects of a business or activity to be easily controlled, basically the antithesis of what skateboarding is today. As the corporation’s values become more and more apart of skateboarding and influence the ideologies of individual skaters, the greater the potential that our activity will fundamentally change. Skateboarding won’t be like the activity we all know today, instead it will have an ideology and a performance similar to that of football, or, as Rob Dyrdek is praying for, the UFC.

If corporations continue to gain influence within our culture the dominant form of skateboarding may move from the streets, where it is difficult to control or directly profit off of, into the contained space of the park. Additionally the skate video may also fall to the wayside. Why spend the money to send a skate team to Barcelona for three weeks to film ten tricks, when you can fly one skater to Gilbert, AZ for a couple of days and have your logo seen throughout the world on ESPN?

Instead of inefficiently, creatively, and collaboratively creating skate videos, skaters will efficiently and competitively enter into the highly predictable, standardized, quantifiable, and controllable world of mega-contests. In this social-world, there is no time for a skater to push himself spending hours trying to land a trick, because it is inefficient. There is little room for creativity (i.e. no backside 50-50 finger-flip) because, “it isn’t good strategy.” And there is no reason to seek out new skate spots as it more efficient for all skate contests to take place in the same stylized spaces. Whether you are in Gilbert or Toronto you can watch Chaz Ortiz jump down the exact same 10 stair. If corporate skating begins to dominate there will be little room left for the skating that Louie Barletta, Chris “Mango” Milic, or Jeff Stevens do, there will only be room for the (amazing, but) standardized and predictable skating of Greg Lutzka, Ryan Sheckler, and Nyjah Houston.

A strong corporate presence within our culture will change the economics of skateboarding. As we have seen in the past seven years, Nike and Adidas’s presence has escalated the number of skater owned skate shoe companies that have gone out of business, which limits the ability of skaters to influence skateboarding. Skater owned companies are in dire economic situations, not because of natural fluctuations within the skateboard market, but because of the imbalance of economic power within skateboarding that is evident in a post-Consolidunk era.

The entrance of Nike, Adidas, and other mega-corporations, has created a situation similar to what many popular but small coffee shops faced when dealing with Starbucks. Starbucks would open across the street from a local coffee shop, and even if the local coffee shop was doing well prior to Starbucks entrance, the small shops couldn’t afford to operate in such close proximity to a Starbucks “Café,” which could afford to run at a loss, dump huge amounts of money into advertisements and promotions, and do huge amounts of market research on potential customers because of its deep pockets. Eventually the small café would go under, which allowed Starbucks to dominate the local market, not because their product was superior, but because of their economic might (see Naomi Klien’s book No Logo and Ocean Howell’s “Extreme Market Research”).

photo: jared wickerham

Corporations are also changing the idea of what skaters think they deserve to be paid, how much profit companies… err shareholders should expect to profit off them, and how little corporations need to invest into the culture as a whole. It has become “common sense” that Chris Cole and other mega-stars deserve to make an average of $40,000 per month, while many pros pull a salary much closer to $2000 a month, or are being dropped in order to pay for the mega-stars contracts. It has become reasonable that the publicly traded corporation Zumiez does hundreds of millions in sales in each year, but doesn’t sponsor one skater.

And we are all amazed that the Maloofs are willing to put up a $500,000 cash prize, when in reality $500,000 is nothing when we consider the fact that the Maloof family is worth approximately 1 billion! 500k is 1/2000 of their net worth. This is the same as if the average American family (net worth 77K) was to “give away” $15 (I put give away in quotes since the Maloofs profit off the Money Cup and do not lose money). It seems that skateboarding is separating into two poles: one where a few businesses and a very small group of skaters are making lots of money, while everyone else is fucked. Sadly, our new ideology allows us to see this as normal, when in reality this is a very unusual state of affairs for skateboarding.

all these brands are owned by VF corp

Finally, the large corporations buying, selling, and trading skate companies drastically affects the structure of the skateboard world. We recently saw this when Mark Ecko sold Zoo York to Iconix, who then decided it would improve their bottom line if they abandoned Zoo York’s “skate program” and dumped some of their riders.

Another example of the consequences of skateboard companies being bought and sold as commodities instead of being treated as pillars within the skateboard community is VF Corp’s acquisition of Timberland. VF Corp recently purchased Timberland, which had owned Ipath. A few months before VF Corp acquired Timberland Ipath was sold to Klone Lab, which lead to the restructuring of Ipath and the loss of a good portion of the team (as we see with Birdhouse’s new pro Ben Raybourn, the up-coming ams Ryan Reyes, Ryan Lay, and many others all leaving the company).

Corporations only value skate-companies and skateboarders in relation to how much capital they can generate for a group of shareholders, instead of valuing them as important parts of our culture. In the world of corporate skateboarding, skate-companies and skaters are simply commodities that are meant to be bought, profited from, and then thrown away.

If the corporations continue to increase their hold of skateboarding the ramifications for skateboarding in terms of culture, space, and economics will be huge. Instead of waiting to see Mango’s next creative part, the hijinks of the Baker Boys or the adventure of Wallner’s next skate-documentary we will be stuck watching Alex Klein attempt to sell competitive skateboarding to outsiders and Sheckler win at skateboarding by being the “best”. Rather than being anomalies these skaters will become the norm if we return to the world of corporate skateboarding, and we will end up in a worse spot than we were in the 1980s when Vallely, Rocco, Gonzales, and others all first rebelled against corporate control.

For more info check out these article references & suggested readings.

Words: Lurper
Original Illustration: Lauren Kolesinskas
Rant, comment or bitch on our Facebook
Let us spam you on Twitter

Comments

  1. sylvia:

    word homies.

    Skating got sold out by skaters, point blank. It’s sad to say but terribly true, Carney was right, it’s a cannibals feast out there. Don’t bash the skaters that are making their living doing shit that’s never been done, bash those that sold out to the highest bidder to feed their fucking egos once their bodies started to fail.

    the streets are watching and they streets will stay. fuck the leagues, the cups, all of it.

  2. moe:

    Vans are ok though am I right? I mean, that clever marketing still makes it seem like they’re really core, so they must be.

    • erikc:

      no they are owned by vanity fair magazine thats what the vf stands for a fuckin fashion mag!

      • onlybenihanas:

        VF corp and vanity fair magazine are different things.

        Vanity Fair magazine is owned by Conde Nast Publications http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Condé_Nast_Publications
        and
        VF corp was originally the Reading Glove and Mitten Manufacturing Company http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VF_Corporation

      • Mofo:

        VANs is and has been the most core com-any as can be for their size. They were there in the beginning, and they are in the mix, hands on every single day. Steve VanDoren and his daughter Kristy can always be seen with the skaters, listening to them, and giving back to the culture in a way that no other corporate skate company does. If you don’t know or realize this, then you either are supider than shit, or aren’t a skater.

        • Jeremy:

          True that, Vans is the shit! They’ve been giving back to the community for a long time. Here in Montreal, they’ve donated something like 17k for more concrete to help build a better DIY spot and made a collab shoe to help fund for more concrete.

  3. Adam Finkle:

    who cares. i can still skate

  4. Jacob:

    Interesting article, I can’t take a preachy stance since I jumped on the Nike SB band wagon the year they came out. I like to think that independent companies like Magenta, Palace and Libe gaining popularity so quickly these days will shape our future. Hopefully like the music industry blogs and the Internet will help spread the word of non corporate skating and companies like Nike Ect will be forced to follow suit.

  5. fixthemetal:

    meh. ive heard this argument on a lot of different platforms but its always the same shit. corpos see something thats a trend (which skating is rite now. dont fucking kid yerselves) and try to make money off it. simple capitalism. thats how shit works. nothing new there. i feel like this article could have been much broader and more interesting if it dealt with the corpo profit model and how it affects society as a whole while using skating as an example. mega companies are bleeding the world dry at the expense of the workers and it aint gonna stop til theres sum real rioting. fucking skateboarding is really one of the smaller things to be concerned with as far as the commodification and subversion of youth culture. this article mostly came off as just a whiny rant that you’d find on youwillsoon or something without really contributing anything new to the discourse. but really theres nothing to be worried about. people who are passionate about what we do will continue to make cool shit regardless of profit (just like in the 90′s) and while there will be some economic stratification, i have faith the skaters are still skaters, and even the rich ones want to give back to the communities that made them. so thats my two cents but bottom line is, who cares. this is a storm, it will pass. just roll.

    • StimCoCruzer:

      you’re right. its happened before, and people have written about it before.

      but the younger generations are not aware of that, which is why bringing this up again is important. someone has to tell these kids WHY Nike and Red Bull should NOT be supported.

      also, its true the same corpo model is killing the world, but this is a sk8 site, so just relating that concept to sk8ing is really all thats needed here.

      • fixthemetal:

        oh ya totally dude i get that. didnt mean to sound too critical. it is a good article and this stuff for sure needs to be discussed but i guess im just looking for more. maybe ill just do some research and write my own damn article. good looks on that ocean howell link. dude does good work on top of having some of the best flatground moves on the planet.

    • Moose:

      Yah man! You’re right it’s the same pattern with food, houses, cars etc. I think the future is gonna be in independent DIY things. Build your own house like you like it if you don’t need a big mcmansion with the big mortgage, grow your own food don’t eat toxic shit and work less, skate more. After too many overpriced skateparks built by people who never skated, Montreal skaters decided to do their own thing and built Projet 45, a DIY skatepark. Check it out: http://projet45mtl.blogspot.ca/

Leave a comment

*
*

Classics

LOAD MORE

website by dedleg