It wasn’t long ago that I was sitting in the office of a prominent magazine owner, the air was tense and I was starting to feel light headed. My editor was sitting off to one side looking at the ground and the owner was sitting behind his desk looking half afraid to follow through with the axing that was about to take place.
And who can blame him. I was unpredictable then and I’m sure there was a piece of him that was waiting for me to wing my chair in the general direction of his head. It was this unpredictability that got me in this mess in the first place, my idealism and sarcasm had driven me to write a rather condescending piece about a young professional snowboarder and his relationship with his energy drink sponsor.
The piece was published on their website, caused an uproar and was quickly pulled from the site. The energy drink company bombarded the magazine with phone calls, industry insiders were pissed and I had to take a call with the snowboarder himself, listening to him tell me about why the article hurt his feelings.
Subsequently, I was fired and the energy drink industry continued on with its barrage of advertising on action sports, selling their chemical concoction to kids the world over. I was adamant about my position then, and even though I’ve grown to be both more understanding and nihilistic about the energy drink situation and the athletes that endorse them, I still stand by my initial sentiment. I never felt that the athlete was a bad person, I actually liked him, I just thought that becoming a complete shill for an energy drink company was wack and bad for snowboarding. It was nothing personal, it was just business, baby.
In every industry there are paradigm shifts, certain moments that have a profound effect, and in 2011 that shift happened seemingly overnight, as a group of very hip professional snowboarders started writing Drink Water on their boards and wearing black and white hoodies with the same words printed across their chests. Finally, the war drums were being beaten and the boys of winter were taking a stand against the energy drink companies.
While the inception of Drink Water didn’t dissuade the energy drink companies from marketing to action sports communities, it certainly made it acceptable to be openly anti-energy drink. And while it didn’t get me my job back, it did feel like a small victory, and for a lowly journalist, even a small victory can feel monumental.
Recently another round of small victories occurred when a group of action sports athletes got together and started the new beverage company Villager Goods, based on the same business model that saw Saint Archer, a beer company, reach a staggering level of success before selling to MillerCoors for upwards of $35 million dollars. A number of the same investors that cashed in on the Saint Archer’s deal are involved with Villager Goods. However, unlike Saint Archer, Villager Goods is a non-alcoholic health-based beverage that would be in direct conflict with any of the investing athletes’ current drink sponsors. In lieu of this, a number of them have decided to leave their energy drink or soda sponsors including Paul Rodriguez, one of the biggest names in skateboarding leaving Mt. Dew, and Pat Moore, a world class snowboarder leaving Red Bull.
Pat’s Instagram recently featured a short statement about why he bid Red Bull adieu. In part claiming that the coaching that Red Bull gave him on how to talk about the product wasn’t in line with his personal beliefs. Rodriguez made a similar claim, however Paul’s statement had to do with the health affects associated with Villager Goods. And while he didn’t come right out and say Mt. Dew is bad for you, he certainly made it clear that he thought the healthier products associated with Villager Goods would benefit his skateboarding and add longevity to his career.
This past winter I decided to leave Red Bull. The benefits of riding for them are undeniable, but I started to question my involvement when I began being coached on how to speak about their product in a way I wasn’t ok with. I’m happy to start @villagergoods with a group of likeminded people and a team full of icons. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to offer the next generation the benefits of a drink sponsor without the negativity that goes along with it.
While there’s no doubt that both of these athletes waited until they had a viable financial option that could possibly replace their drink sponsors before making the break, it is still a noble move. It’s a risk, as Villager is an investment, not a sure thing. Both Pat and P-Rod could have continued to cash big drink sponsor checks for years to come, but they both made the leap, and I hope it pays off.
For years I’ve heard both professional athletes and industry insiders claim that all the corporate money that has poured into action sports is a good thing. And while I don’t disagree with the claims, I have certainly pondered whether or not we as snowboarders, skateboarders and surfers couldn’t take hold of our own destiny and create our own revenue without the corporate brands that don’t necessarily align with our lifestyle ethos.
Companies like Villager Goods and Saint Archer have flipped the script, instead of a non-endemic brand coming in and making money off us, it’s us making money in a non-endemic vertical. It gives the power back to the athletes and assures that the brands they are representing ultimately represent them.
While this won’t tumble the tower that is energy drinks or corporate interests, I do hope it inspires more athletes and influencers to come together to create brands they have a vested interest in. This will not only be a way to financially pad themselves in the future, but will also mean they’re backing products that best serve the beautiful pursuits that have given them so much.