If you've been watching any snowboard events lately you'll notice many blank snowboards, covered up boots, and non-descript black apparel. Top ranked snowboarders without sponsors. The west coast had a horrible snow season last year, and this year's El Nino has left most of the east with the worst snow season in recent memory, which is effecting everyone in the industry's bottom line and having some impact on sponsorship numbers but there is something much more sinister causing the lion's share of the issue. If skateboarding isn't careful, the very same thing could happen to it. As snowboarding gained in popularity, eventually it grew to the point where it began to garner the attention of the sports companies. Snowboarders and rider-owned companies created this beautiful art-form, fighting for the right so be allowed on mountains, creating our own culture, and this creativity carryed over into development of ever improving technology and a steady evolution of style. All this tasty-ness got brands like Nike licking it's lips and the athletic footwear super-predators decided to sink their teeth in.
With pockets deeper than most snowboard companies can compete with Nike (thanks to decades of overpriced products manufactured by slave-like labor) started scooping up top riders. The money started flowing and these masters of marketing worked to buy their way into the culture. Swooshes filled our magazines, website banners, and podiums. Even the biggest snowboard companies felt the pressure of this global giant and smaller companies were pushed to their limits.
And then it happened...
Nike learned how shitty snowboard margins are and how fickle old man winter can be with his dumpings and droughts. Just like a middle-schooler with an abstinence-only education, Nike pulled out. Us snowboarders were not lucrative enough an enterprise for their spreadsheets (at least not at this time).
So a sponsorship vacuum was created. A slew of top riders were now without key sponsors. Many other snowboard companies already had full rosters and other where spread too thin after having to go up against huge sports companies to pick up this now free talent. Moves were made, riders dropped, and the finite number of sponsor slots got re-shuffled. Some great riders are losing their means of income, some great companies who care about snowboarding just could not compete and are gone while others are stumbling, and snowboarding's deep culture ended up a bit more shallow.
Large corporations do not care about us, they only care about our money. Although this statement seems like common knowledge our actions as a community show that it is not understood. Once these athletic shoe and sports companies aren't getting what they want from us they will move on and what will be left of our culture? What core companies will be left to help us pick up the pieces and re-build? We must support those who support us.
Nike and others only dabbled in snowboarding for a couple of years and look at all the damage. These greedy mammoths have been staking a claim in skateboarding for much longer now leaving a wake of closed companies and shops. Many of us are old enough remember the last time they made a play for skateboarder's money and how they were quick to turn their backs on us when skateboarding hit dark times in the 90's. Once skateboarding bounced back Nike and the like jumped back in to cash in, causing many of the companies that helped us through those struggles to close their doors.
Skateboarding needs to learn this lesson from snowboarding and skateboarders need to support skateboarders and not athletic shoe companies. Skateboarding is not some sport to be added to their portfolios. Skateboarding is more than simply an activity we participate in, it is our culture. This is more than just a battle for the heart of skateboarding. This is stopping to realize who will be there for you through thick and thin? Who will not only be there when you are at your best but who will still hang around when you are broken?
i know who that will be... do you?