The Allure Of Action Sports

Gen Y is drawn to action sports. According to America Sports Data (2007), in the U.S. alone there are 11.6 million skateboarders, 6.88 million snowboarders and 3 million BMX participants, and, of these numbers, the majority is between the ages of 18 and 30. The action sports allure comes not only from the fun, but also from the freedom. Whether it's skateboarding, riding a BMX, surfing or snowboarding, it comes down to you and the elements.

In action sports there are no rules, only technique. The way two people arrive at learning a trick can be completely different from each other, and each will develop their own style in the process; and in action sports style is everything.

This process of personal expression usually leads practitioners of action sports to explore other ways to express their individuality and creativity. Skaters and surfers often become musicians, painters, actors or artists of some type -- no other sport is so tied to a broader youth culture. In action sports, young people find a community that not only encourages but celebrates their natural creativity and individuality.



Action Sports in Mainstream Culture

It's difficult not to notice the immense popularity action sports has gained over the last 10 years. TV's bastion of youth culture, MTV, can credit some of its most popular shows to action sports. "The Life of Ryan," "Viva La Bam," "Jack Ass," "Rob and Big," "Rob's Fantasy Factory" and "Nitro Circus" all are shows based on action sports and the lifestyle.

Action sports events like the Dew Tour and X Games pack traditional sports venues and receive coveted broadcast coverage. Skaters like Jason Lee and Dave Chappelle have become famous actors, skateboard legend Mark Gonzales has become a famous artist, professional surfer Jack Johnson has become a renowned musician. TV networks like "Fuel TV" broadcast only action sports, XM radio station "The Faction" only plays "the music of action sports." Woodward has a camp catered to action sports and an increasing number of schools have surf PE, skateboard PE and snowboard week. For decades, its impact was slow and steady, but over the last decade, action sports has become woven into the fabric of youth culture.

Corporations Join the Fold

As endemic companies like DC, Billabong and Volcom become household names, it's little surprise that riding the coattails of this popularity are many corporations, including Nike, Gatorade, Converse, Adidas and Toyota, to name a few of that have created action sports programs.

The amount of money spent on traditional sports marketing far exceeds what is spent on action sports, yet action sports continue to replace traditional sports in popularity -- with participation numbers in action sports rising at the expense of traditional sports.

The power of the action sports market has yet to be completely realized. For non-endemic corporations, breaking into this market isn't as easy as it may seem. Skaters, surfers and snowboarders traditionally are leery of non-endemic brands.

Here are some tips for marketing to the action sports demographic:

  • Before the start of your project, speak with young people who are invested in action sports culture to educate yourself and your staff
  • Whether they are pro athletes, amateur athletes or other respected personalities in action sports, get well-respected "ambassadors" to help be the face and voice of your brand when trying to reach young people
  • Sponsor grassroots action sports events and competitions, not just the large, made-for-TV events
  • Advertise in endemic print and online outlets
  • Hire photographers who specialize in the respective action sport to photograph anything you are doing in the sports

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5 comments about "The Allure Of Action Sports ".
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  1. Caroline Graeff, April 24, 2009 at 6:39 p.m.

    Billy described perfectly the industry as it is. I like the way he summarized the growth of action sports.

    The tips are really good, and from all of them I would (WITH NO EXCEPTIONS) say that if you are a non-endemic company and want to break into action sports, you HAVE TO have a team of smart business people that live and breathe action sports. No one else can better tell you what looks good to our eye. We are picky, we are passionate, we are a community that hates to be invaded by outsiders.

    AUTHENTICITY is key, but don't try too hard, or we'll notice it. Be involved for sure. If you want to be successful, you have to have some type of grassroots program. Our industry is not about impressions, it's about making your mark everywhere all the time. You'll get more respect, especially if you contribute something positive to the industry.

    The X-Games and Dew Tour are not for the core. These events are for the mainstream. Core action sports people don't care if your brand sponsors this type of mass market events. We are not like baseball or football fans. Watching an X-Games final is not what we've been waiting for all year long. We are participant first and foremost. And action sports with everything that comes with it (Art, music, etc,) are our life. People (Brands) that don't live the culture will NEVER be able to understand it, no matter how much they read, research, watch, etc.

    To finish up:
    1. Get yourself a great team of action sports people that also understand where you are coming from as a non-endemic brand
    2. Listen to them and embrace their lifestyle
    3. Don't try too hard. Be yourself but be respectful and committed to this market. The action sports industry will recognize your efforts and eventually will reward you for your support and for contributing positively.
    4. We are a lifestyle, not just a sport. So don't forget about how art, music, and fashion work with skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, etc. (notice how I talk about "work" vs. "influence").

    Great article Bill!

  2. paul myers, April 24, 2009 at 8:02 p.m.

    Good point David. How many years did it take Nike to finally penetrate an industry that was smaller than Nike itself? Don't forget that Reebok made a feeble attempt with Boks as well.

    Authenticity alone will not always get the job done. Brands must be credible in their attempts to "support" the action sports lifestyle!

  3. paul myers, April 24, 2009 at 8:03 p.m.

    Authenticity and credibility should be the main goal...

  4. David Winters from Deviate Ltd, April 27, 2009 at 4:17 a.m.

    Great article - and comments are bang on in terms of understanding that participation rather than spectating is crucial here. Surprised there's no mention of the massive online communities and international links between participants at a result of the web.
    MSN, Bebo, MySpace, YouTube etc mean one of my (UK-based) son's best skateboarding buddies lives in Brazil while his park gets hundreds of thousands of worldwide hits and is now a major stopping off point for skateboarders from across the rest of Europe.

  5. Bill Byrne from Remedy PR, April 27, 2009 at 11:51 a.m.

    Great thoughts Bill. Lots of great learnings for the non-endemics looking to market better to the action sports/youth culture set.

    To help enforce some points (and eventually make all of our jobs easier) you made, here's my take:

    * Get well-respected "ambassadors" to help be the face and voice of your brand: This does not mean a brand has to affiliate themselves with Tony Hawk or Dave Mirra. Often, many of the biggest influencers in action sports do not win medals at the X-Games. There's nothing wrong with the X-Games, but there's an untapped market brands can be a part of, which will also help with their authenticity in the long run.

    * Sponsor grassroots action sports events and competitions, not just the large, made-for-TV events: You're dead on here. It's not the most eyeballs you want to get in front of, but the right eyeballs. Once brands stop looking at media buys and events in terms of pure #'s, the better we'll all be.

    The use of action sports by non-endemics to engage the youth market is obvious and a strategy that will continue... as it should, for the benefit of both the activities, endemic brands and the participants. If you look at a traditional activity, such as baseball or soccer, the biggest advertisers are non-endemic brands. They help keep the lights on.

    Without the non-endemics, there'd be many less pros out there, regardless of if they're X-Game or the video version.

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